interview mass tort firm employees

How To Screen Incoming Employees Into Your Mass Tort Firm

How To Screen Incoming Employees Into Your Mass Tort Firm

Jon Robinson:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to another CaseWorks stream. We are excited to be joined today by Susan Barfield, CEO of Case Works, and Bill Denninger, from Datavative. Thank you both for joining us here today.

Susan Barfield:
Thanks, John.

Bill Denninger:
Thanks for having us.

Jon Robinson:
Absolutely. Susan, you want to start, just give us a little quick intro on CaseWorks?

Susan Barfield:
Yeah, be happy to. Case Works is an outsource solution for both mass tort and personal injury law firms. We handle cases. If we’re talking about mass tort cases, we handle them from the point at which there’s assigned retainer, all the way through to either filing that case in the MDL, or just getting it in settlement position. After assigned retainer and we’re contacting the clients, we’re verifying that they’re a qualified case, we are setting expectation, which is really important upfront, and we are providing them with all the information that they can get in touch with us.

Susan Barfield:
Then from there, we will move that case to our team that orders the medical records, and then from there, if there’s any defects from the medical record retrieval, we’re curing those, and then we have a team of nurses that will be reviewing the records and proving up the case. If there’s any tort forms, we will complete those as well, like plaintiff fact sheets and such. In a nutshell, that’s what we do. In our personal injury, we do the same thing. The only caveat to that is that we have a team of paralegals. If that personal injury case needs demand letters, we can draft and prepare demand letters as well.

Jon Robinson:
A process you’re very familiar with, right, Bill?

Bill Denninger:
Yeah. Datavative was actually formed to help plaintiff tort firms grow and scale and deploy technology in their organizations. We’ve noticed over the last few years that these firms have really begun to embrace technology, understand how to deploy it, and what we do is we don’t just look at it from a tech perspective, both my partner and I have decades of experience in building firms on the highest level in some of the largest firms in the country. We look at people, process, technology, so that this way, the technology that gets deployed is specific to the way that firm wants to operate based on their goals and risk analysis and the skills they have in house. We build the technology around that and help them really grow and scale and take their business to the next level.

Jon Robinson:
Absolutely. Today, we’re going to talk about the first part of that, the people, and how to screen incoming employees into your firms, specifically mass tort firms, so that firms can really embrace the processes, embrace the technology there that are going to help their firms be more efficient and grow. We’re going to start with a question for you, Bill, about how do law firms decide how many people to hire for an incoming mass tort case?

Bill Denninger:
It’s dependent upon the firm. Honestly, a lot of them are tort, right? If you take a look at, some of these torts have a number of people that have been injured, so that the effective number of people you could sign up can be significantly larger. Plus, it’s how much resources the firm wants to dedicate to it. So, if they’re going to run heavy marketing campaigns and sign up as many clients as they can, then obviously they’re going to have to scale up significantly, but it all starts with what’s your potential plaintiff size, how much money are you going to invest in it, and then what’s the work that you’re going to do? Are you going to handle most of this work in house? Are you going to work with a litigating firm? That’s the beginning of you’re sizing and your options. Then it’s what resources you have in house and how you can move them. Usually, it escalates over time, because as the torts move on, the demand for the work that needs to happen gets more and more.

Jon Robinson:
Let’s talk about some of those specifics. This is a question for both of you. Susan, I’m going to let you answer this first. When a firm does decide to take on a tort, what types of positions should they be looking to fill?

Susan Barfield:
Yeah, that’s a great question. If you think about, when I was talking about all the different departments and the stages that Case Works does, while we aren’t a law firm, we are the back office solution for a law firm. So, if you think about from the point at which there’s a signed retainer, then you’re going to need to have a team of folks that can review each newly signed retainer that comes in to make sure that that case actually fits the criteria of the tort, and that they are qualified cases. Then from there, it would move over to a team that’s going to generate… well, one, they’re going to need to understand the facts of the case, like all the facilities that that plaintiff went to to be able to order the right medical records from the right facility during the right time period.

Susan Barfield:
I mean, a lot of times, unfortunately, firms spend a lot of money on medical records, unnecessary medical records, and maybe they’re just going off of the intake questionnaire, which no one should ever do. That’s why we have a whole team dedicated to ordering medical records, and then a team of nurses or medical professionals that are going to review the records that come back in to ensure that we’re obtaining, whether it’s proof of use or product ID, and then the injury associated, and then a team of paralegals that can complete those tort forms. There’s a lot of different types of employees, and I would say operational folks, people with medical backgrounds, and then paralegals.

Jon Robinson:
Bill, what about more on the front end, on the intake side?

Bill Denninger:
That was the one thing I was going add. I’ve seen and I’ve been in the situation where you go from spending X number of dollars a month, and then they multiply X times five, and they spend the money and they don’t bother to tell anyone, and suddenly the phone explodes and they realize that they’re completely understaffed. Those leads are going unanswered. They’re going to the answering services or voicemail. So, it’s important that the firms operate in lock step with their call center and their capacity to be able to answer the phone when they deploy money for marketing, and then using a firm like Case Works and Susan’s business model, it’s great because it allows you to have… mass tort is a lot about peaks and valleys, and there’s a tremendous amount of work that happens between retention and settlement.

Bill Denninger:
Susan’s company is great at doing a lot of that manual labor where you’ve got to staff up really hard, hire a bunch of people, you can smooth out your number of employees you need to hire, and then once you get to the settlement part, you can pivot, bring it back in-house, build out that staff as you move into the settlement. Those two things play nicely together, but outside of it, it’s the beginning and the end.

Susan Barfield:
Yeah. I think that’s great, Bill. Then I think that the one other component that we recently added to our team are project managers. It’s all about when a new deadline is released and you have thousands and thousands of cases, it’s all about resource allocation and how much resources do we need to get the job done by the deadline? We brought in folks that are PMP certified. I think a lot of times people underestimate the amount of work it requires to move thousands of thousands of cases across the finish line. To work up a case, that’s not the hard part.

Susan Barfield:
The hard part comes when the majority of the cases, they get stuck somewhere, whether that’s you get a no record found from a facility, and if you don’t have records, you don’t have a case. So, how do you have… and to Bill’s point, it’s all about technology and leveraging technology. So, do you have a call platform? Then managing the amount of outbound calls required to move that case, or if you send out a mass text message talking about deadlines, and then you have 2,000 calls in a day, so making sure you have the technology to manage the inbound, so a lot of work.

Bill Denninger:
Yeah. I tell my clients all the time, well, just do the math, right?

Susan Barfield:
Right.

Bill Denninger:
Do the math. You got to order 1,000 records. How long does it take you to order a medical record?

Susan Barfield:
Yeah.

Bill Denninger:
A lot of them are like, “I use my a med record ordering companies’ portal.” Okay, so you have to take all the text and all the data from your case management system and enter it into an entirely separate system. What if we do a system integration so now it’s a button push, and rather than someone spending six minutes times 1,000 doing that data entry, it’s a button push, it’s three seconds.

Susan Barfield:
Yeah, exactly.

Bill Denninger:
When the data comes back, it populates into your system, you’re seeing the statuses there. That’s a lot of the things that we do as a company to try to streamline those processes. That’s where you save time. At the end of the day, it’s cost. It hits the bottom line of these firms.

Susan Barfield:
Yeah, absolutely.

Jon Robinson:
As law firms are embracing technology more and more, and process more and more, how do you find the right employees that you know are going to be able to actually use this technology? How do you screen them during that interviewing process?

Bill Denninger:
For us, I focus a lot on the process, right? I can make the firms and the partners and the people that we work with, I say, “Okay, fine. Tell us how you do this. Now, what’s the best way? Are there opportunities for us to improve so it doesn’t take as much time to complete the tasks?” Then we say, “Okay, let’s break it out into little segments, and let’s talk about the skills needed to execute here.” Ultimately, we try to build the technology so that it is seamless, it’s not fancy, it’s very clean, easy to use, very user-friendly, it presents the information in an easy way, it’s not 1,000 clicks to get something done, because at the end of the day, it’s all about optimizing the employee resources that you have available to you.

Jon Robinson:
What about from a retraining perspective, when you’re shifting from paper and files to using technology, how do you go about doing that?

Bill Denninger:
I say to my clients, I like to recruit internally, right? I like to use people from the intake floor and move them into legal, so they have the basis of litigations, they understand what’s qualifying, they understand what the issues are, they have a good amount of empathy on the phone. Then because this call center is a little more tech driven, it almost comes in naturally. Then we like to go after what I call the low hanging fruit, so find the one task that is repetitive over and over that the paralegals and law courts have to do, and automate it in some way, or deploy technology in a way that makes their lives easier, and then build on it. Going from zero to 100 from a crawl to a run doesn’t work. It’s about the incremental increase and making sure that people are comfortable with the technology being deployed.

Jon Robinson:
On the front end, during an interview, if there was one question that each of you would always ask or recommend always being asked, what would it be? We’ll start with you, Susan.

Susan Barfield:
Yeah. I do ask one question on every interview, and it usually catches people off guard, but it’s very telling. The question that I always ask is how many cups of coffee are sold in the world each day? Here’s what I’m looking for. There’s no right answer. Oftentimes, you’ll have people that just say, “Gosh, I have no idea,” and then it ends there. It also ends for me too. I will not hire somebody that says, “I have no idea.” You’ll have someone that just kind of doesn’t really think about the question, just throws on answer like, “I don’t know, 200,000 cups of coffee a day,” and that person I wouldn’t hire either. What I’m looking for is for someone to just take a step back and just come up with a process, and it can just be assumptions.

Susan Barfield:
Like, let’s say there’s 1,000 people in the world, and half these people drink coffee, of which there’s a certain percent that are going to drink two cups, just someone that can think logically through a process and that can think on their toes, because I know they’re not looking for a question like this, and it has been very telling. The people that answer in some capacity just with some logical response have done really well. To Bill’s point, I mean, you need people that can be very flexible and fluid with technology. If you can’t even think through that, then, I don’t know, that’s the question I ask, and it’s been really interesting the responses. Again, I don’t hire anyone that says they don’t know, or they just quickly throw out some random number without thinking about it.

Bill Denninger:
It’s very funny that you say that, because my question is how many barbers are there in Chicago? So, different question, but it’s the same thing, right? You want to see how they think, how they work through an issue, and you’re just looking for… there is no right answer. The person that realizes it is usually the first one we want to hire.

Susan Barfield:
Right.

Bill Denninger:
One of the techniques I use, especially in the front end of the business, but pretty much on any of the customer facing roles, I divert the conversation and say, “What do you do in your free time?” Right? I ask them about their hobbies. One of the guys we hired, he was like, “Oh, I brew beer.” Great. Tell me about it. At that point, I’m looking for a few things. One, typically, the way they’re speaking should dramatically change. The rhythm of their speaking, the inflection in their voice. Why? Because it’s something that they know really well. They understand it, they’re passionate about it. Right? They’re interested in it. That to me says, okay, this is what the person is going to sound like on the phone in two months.

Susan Barfield:
Yeah.

Bill Denninger:
So, if they’re still talking with a boring, droning… forget it, you’re out. Right? I always do my first interview, especially for intake floor, on the phone. I don’t even want to see you. I want to hear you on the phone, and I want to give you the benefit of being able to see me either and see me react. It’s how do you communicate there? The other thing is I look for is in those hobbies, how deep do they go, right? Do they take the time to research different malts grown in different areas of the world, and what the flavor profile is going to change their beer? Great. Right? It’s someone that I know is going to take the time, do the research, be considerate and think about it, it’s trying to figure out when someone is really passionate and cares, how deep are they willing to go to take the extra time, how much intellectual curiosity they have, and how much are they willing to develop the hard skills needed to complete the job?

Jon Robinson:
That’s great. That is absolutely a great perspective. Let’s look at what happens if someone passes your screens, they get hired in, and then they wind up not working out. What are the ramifications of a bad hire? Susan?

Susan Barfield:
Yeah. I mean, it’s certainly going to happen. It happens to all of us. We make poor decisions. Hopefully, it’s very minimal, because it’s costly, both from a financial perspective, and it’s just costly on time, and time is money. It’s exhausting. I mean, our training program is four to six weeks at Case Work, so you can imagine putting someone through training and then that not working out. That’s, like I said, exhausting for our team members that have to train everyone. In June, I think we hired nearly 70 people. That’s a lot in one month, and to train, so it’s definitely very costly and time-consuming, for sure.

Bill Denninger:
Yeah. I agree. I mean, your worst employee is what’s going to end up making your best employee leave. Right? I’ve been in that situation where I look around and I’m like, “Hey, I’m carrying the water for two or three people around me. Why should I?” Right? So, number one, you’re going to lose some of your best people, it’s going to cost you lost productivity and time. One of the big things that myself and my team, we communicate a lot with our employees, understanding what their goals are, what their career objectives are. I understand that if I hired you two years ago, what you cared about then is not what you care about today, so just trying to keep a pulse on where the employees are at, what skills they want to develop, and you may not fit in the job that you have right now, and you may want to go in a different direction. Great. Let’s talk about it.

Bill Denninger:
If I have that opportunity in our organization, I’ll do what I can to mold you into that role. If not, then, hey, you know what? I’ll write you a great recommendation letter. For people who just don’t want to work and it’s just a bad hire and it’s not going to work out, I very quickly move on. People I find tend to drag it out a bit, and it’s a mistake. I’ve had people, one of the guys we let go, and we gave him every opportunity to work it out, called us up a month later, and he’s like, “You know, you were right. I had every opportunity to correct my actions, and I didn’t, and you weren’t wrong in letting me go.” So, it’s making a decision quickly when you know it’s the right one.

Susan Barfield:
Yeah.

Jon Robinson:
Susan, Case Works is a fully remote company. Do you want to talk about the differences in interviewing and screening potential employees fully remotely, versus having the opportunity, as Bill said, he likes to talk to people face to face. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being fully remote?

Susan Barfield:
Yeah, I would say to bring folks on at Case Works, since we are remote, the very first thing we do is we provide them with a test, and it’s going to be a test that’s comprised of technology, they’re going to have to answer common sense things, and so if they can pass the initial test, it’s also going to be about providing information on a spreadsheet, and can they do certain things like pivot tables? How advanced are they? Once they pass that, then we’re going to get them on a Zoom session and be able to talk with them, look at their mannerisms. Like Bill said, it depends on, folks on our team, we need them to be very empathetic, understanding, any client or a plaintiff facing role, versus, if we have case managers and our project managers, we need them to be able to be very analytical.

Susan Barfield:
We do some role-playing there. Then one of the main things that I do, and I live and breathe and really believe in this is check references. I don’t want to know, and I tell people, I don’t want to talk to your buddies, your coworkers, because we know they’re going to say you’re great. I want to know at least three to four attorneys that you’ve worked for, or folks that you’ve reported to. Either myself or some of the directors will, we’ll call the references. I mean, we want to be mindful, and we want to do our due diligence to ensure we’re just… and I’ve said to an attorney before, I don’t want what was your problem to now become my problem. So, if there’s some things you can talk to me and share, and that’s really prevented us from bringing folks on.

Susan Barfield:
That’s what we do. I just think from a remote perspective, Bill mentioned this, I mean, a lot of communication. We have a lot of culture at Case Works, and we communicate on a regular basis. We’re having one-on-ones, not only with the firms that we work with, but with our team members, and we have the organizational structure in place that really supports our team members so that they can thrive in their roles.

Jon Robinson:
Really great. That’s excellent advice. Bill, before we end the recording here, do you have any parting words, advice, tips, strategies that firms should use when they’re looking at bringing new staff into their firm?

Bill Denninger:
Yeah. My advice, typically, is start with the process, write it out, outline it, what are the tests you need to get done? How are they being done? That shows you where you need to hire, because as you write things out, you’ll realize that this is a time consuming task, and you need more people over here than in the beginning or after. So, figure that out and say, “Okay, what would an ideal candidate look like to execute on that task?? Right? A great example is, well, intake agents are intake agents. I argue, no, they’re not. Right? I have some intake agents that chase retainers, right? There are just thousands of retainers out on the street. That’s the person I know can dial the phone 150 times. Just call, call, call.

Bill Denninger:
Every once in a while, when you need to be tough with a client and get that retainer back, they are, as opposed to someone who’s fielding those initial calls, they’re a little more empathetic, they listen, they’re a little more engaging in conversation. So, I mean, it’s just a great example of just between those two roles. So, understand exactly what it is and the ideal candidate. Don’t just hire someone because they were responsible in another position, or they held something similar. Really get in and figure out, is this person going to work out? Because every time you hire someone, they don’t cost you money.

Jon Robinson:
Absolutely. So, if a firm is interested in having Datavative help them with that process, how can they get ahold of you?

Bill Denninger:
We have a website, www.datavative.com. You can catch me on LinkedIn. I’m always around.

Jon Robinson:
Susan, if they want to outsource part of those processes to Case Works, how can they get ahold of you?

Susan Barfield:
Yeah. Visit our web and look at all the services that we offer at yourcaseworks.com, or they can email me at susan@yourcase.works, also I’m on LinkedIn as well.

Bill Denninger:
Thank you very much for having me on. I really enjoyed it.

Susan Barfield:
Yeah, for sure. No, it’s been awesome.