Susan Barfield (00:06):
Hello. Thank you for joining another Case Works Stream. Today, we are joined by Patrick Luff and we are going to be talking about the ever-so-important topic about client engagement and really just the importance of client engagement. Like I mentioned, Patrick, I really appreciate you being here to connect with us today, but real quickly for those that are watching and listening, just want to give you a quick rundown, a little bit about Patrick’s background. He has a firm called the Luff Law Firm and it’s based out of Dallas, is that right, Patrick?
Patrick Luff (00:41):
Dallas and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Susan Barfield (00:43):
Yeah, exactly. I know that you’ve been appointed to multiple master cases as co-liaison council, co-lead council, and as a member of the plaintiffs steering committee. So again, thanks so much for taking time to connect and talk about client engagement.
Patrick Luff (00:59):
Well, thanks for having me, as always.
Susan Barfield (01:01):
Yeah. As I was just talking to you before we started recording, we always talk about, and we all know that to fully work up cases and to try and prevent dual rep issues, we’ve got to be really proactive in contacting these plaintiffs throughout the process and keeping them informed and engaged. And I don’t know, Patrick, if you read this article, I should have sent it to you before this, but I recently read the first ever survey of MDL Plaintiffs and what the findings indicated was that plaintiffs who do not hear from their lawyer just for 90 days are 50% more likely that they’ll never pick up our call again. So-
Patrick Luff (01:41):
I believe it and I’d be interested in seeing that, but certainly that’s been my experience in previous lifetimes in previous firms. And so that’s something that we try very hard not to recreate.
Susan Barfield (01:55):
Well, for sure. And there’s already a natural attrition that occurs just throughout the case development pipeline. We’re a metric driven company and so we’re looking at the stats at every kind of milestone, whether it’s right when we first do the welcome call or when we order the records, review the records, and we see this kind of natural attrition that occurs. And the last thing we don’t need to add to that is by not contacting them on a regular basis and have that compounding on top of the cases that already are going to become unresponsive just on their natural what happens, as we all know, in the case development pipeline.
Patrick Luff (02:31):
Well, it’s interesting you say that. I’ve done some pretty extensive financial projections and the like. And it’s interesting that you would think things like interest rates on any financing you’re doing, things like that, operating expenses would be the real drivers of profitability or not of your firm. And the reality is it’s not those so much as it is your acquisition costs, your per case average when you sell your cases or resolve your cases, and then the attrition rates, the difference between an 80% and a 50% attrition rate, or I should say a 20% and a 50% attrition rate is substantial when it comes to your firm’s bottom line.
Susan Barfield (03:16):
Yeah, absolutely. And I know we kind of dove right in, Patrick, but real quickly, tell us a little bit about your area of focus and a little bit about your law firm, just so our viewers know your background.
Patrick Luff (03:29):
Well, my background is actually as an academic and I came into mass torts because that was what my research and writing was on when I was teaching. I’ve had both my own firm and positions in other firms for several years, and so I’ve sort of seen it from the academic side, I’ve seen it from the practice side, and I’ve seen different types of firm business models and now trying to create the best firm business model that I can. We’re involved in most of the mass torts that are active right now, some more so than others. And to the purpose of this discussion, I think it’s important for us always to remember that we’re a service industry, we’re providing legal services, and that means that the number one most important thing that we have to do in our business is customer service. Our clients are our customers. And so service has to be the number one thing that we do and the driver of all the other things that we do in our practice.
Susan Barfield (04:31):
Yeah, absolutely. And you touched on this a minute ago that client engagement is so important to the bottom line and to the bottom dollar, but tell us, what does client engagement mean to you and why is it so important for this to have a great lawyer client relationship?
Patrick Luff (04:51):
I mean, it’s so important in so many different parts of the case and so many different life cycles of the case. One thing that I think is really important is, as a mass tort firm, we may have tens of thousands of clients out there, and so sometimes it’s difficult, if not impossible, to give the individual attention that you might give if you have a single event car wreck practice where you’ve got dozens or maybe even hundreds of clients. So what does that mean in terms of client engagement? Well, there are things that you can do and there are things that technology allow us to do, some of which we’ve talked about before.
One is automated touchpoints throughout the case life cycle. If you’ve got a good case management software, you can create an automated document that says, “We’ve received your medical records. Here’s what’s going to happen next.” You can create an automated thing that says, “Now that we’ve reviewed your records, here’s what’s going to happen next and how quickly it’s going to happen.” All these things are about one, providing information to the clients so they feel engaged and so that they feel like they have a sense of knowledge and control about the process in their case. But what it also does is, I think, builds that trust that you’re going to need, that relationship that you’re going to need over the three, five, seven years that these cases can take, so that when you do get the case to the finish line, you’ve got an engaged client who has been well informed throughout the process and is going to trust you when you say, “This is the offer that’s on the table. Here are your options. Here’s what I advise.”
Susan Barfield (06:35):
Yeah, and I think you touched on something that’s so important is that firms that have such a large volume in their case portfolio, it’s really tough to maintain client engagement if you don’t have a technology foundation to be able to drive the communication. Like you said, I know with our system you’re able to, based on a status, send out mass text messaging, mass emailing and such. And so I know that that’s really critical and I know firms come to us and just say, “Gosh, I just don’t have the technology to be able to do what you do with your client experience and can you help us?” What would you say are some frequent problems that you encounter when it comes to managing the client expectations in a widespread mass tort case?
Patrick Luff (07:23):
Time. Time to resolution. And it’s, I think particularly problematic now in cases like Camp Lejeune where you have a lot of false information out there through less than legal sources who are trying to acquire cases and then presumably sell those to uninformed law firms. We get clients contacting us saying, “I heard that the case is settled, when do I get my check?” Something like that. And frankly, that happens in other cases, but it’s particularly pervasive in Camp Lejeune.
Well, one of the things that we’ve tried to do is be proactive about that. We sent out a client communication a few months ago that specifically said, “You may have heard or you may get an email that says your case is settled and to contact the person sending the email to arrange to get your settlement.” We are proactive about that. And so some of it’s about understanding what the client expectations are, the natural client expectations, and some of it’s about being aware of what’s happening on the ground so that you can then be proactive about it. But I think in both situations, the name of the game is proactivity, right? Being aware. And again, if you are putting customer service at the forefront of what you’re trying to do, then that should come naturally as part of your business model.
Susan Barfield (08:53):
Well, yes, being proactive is the name of the game. And you said something else that is just as important is setting the right expectation in the very beginning with those claimants so they understand that you’re not getting paid in three months, we’re talking three years and trying to really level set and explain, not only, they all want to know when they’re going to get paid, but what are the things that are required to do to be able to fully work up a case to get it to a compensable level so that everyone does get paid? So I think you touched on two things, expectation and the communication and such. So, how do you currently manage, you talked about technology and sending out some information, but how does your firm manage communication with your clients? Anything in addition to just the traditional email and such?
Patrick Luff (09:44):
We do actually do a lot of email communication. And the reason that we focus on that is, I think, the consumer experience in any other industry is very much geared toward that email that you get from Amazon that says, “Hey, your package is shipped,” and the like. So I try to model a lot of what we do in terms of automated communications on that, but in addition, there’s a lot of automated communication that is more generally informational. For example, when a case has been active in our system for 60 days, they get an email that says, “Here’s the difference between an MDL and a class action.” Once they’re active for 90 days, they might get an email that says, “Why is my case taking so long and why is it going to take so long?” And you can do that for any point in the system. Case gets settled, you can send out a new email that says, “Your case has been settled, does that mean I’m getting my check in 30 days?” And explain why that is.
Now, in addition to that, one of the things that I really love is this move toward virtual town halls because in contrast to things like Amazon, I never see Jeff Bezos talking to me about my book order, but what you can do is you, I think always find both across mass torts and in individual cases that there are some common themes in the questions that you get from your clients. Well, you can set up a virtual town hall that people can watch live or people can watch at their convenience, and it’s not interactive, you answer the questions, but they get to see that they’re represented by a real person on the other side of their screen. And so I think and I hope that what it does is it transitions the more traditional legal services model into 2023 and beyond in terms of the sorts of things that we’re doing, the sorts of things that we’re used to doing now several years post pandemic and COVID and everything else.
Susan Barfield (11:51):
Yeah, and talking about the virtual town halls, we were talking about that a little bit before this and just how effective they are. I mean years ago people walked into a law firm and actually signed retainers. They shook the hands with their attorney and that’s just not, in mass tort, that’s just not how it’s really done. And so it’s been great to have these virtual town hall meetings where the plaintiffs get to hear from, like you said, their attorney, they get to ask questions. We have had town hall meetings, let’s say, on 3M where it was kind of a difficult process to walk through and obtain certain documents, so able to, like I said, the one on Friday, there was like 500 participants and we were able to walk them through a portal and show them step by step how to obtain the necessary documents. And then we see a surge of inbound messaging with those documents.
So it’s a really effective way to get in front of a lot of people and to establish rapport because every attorney I’m sure wants raving fans because certainly those fans can refer other clients to you. And let’s see. I wanted to ask you, Patrick, when it comes to the multi-year litigation, you mentioned earlier on about looking at financial analysis and when clients drop off. Is there a point that you’ve seen, analyzing some of this data, where client communication traditionally drops off and then you start to see the attrition of those plaintiffs?
Patrick Luff (13:23):
Let me answer that in two parts. The first part is you do see, I think, a lot of attrition very early in the case, and this is, again, from any other industry, you see this importance of early and continued engagement to close a sale, for example, and similar things in the legal industry. So what that in turn does is it encourages at least some semi-savvy firms that they really got to focus on their first 90 days, first 120 days that the file is active. But the reason I call these semi-savvy firms is they do that for 120 days and then there are not regular updates after that.
And then, I haven’t actually done the graphing, but I suspect you’d see a pretty steep curve that goes down in terms of availability and ability to contact clients over time, both because people’s contact information changes and because clients don’t hear from you for two months and they decide, “Well, I guess they’re not representing me anymore. I need to go find another attorney, et cetera, et cetera.” And so I think there’s going to be a very big drop off early, and then I think there’s a slow drop off over time.
Now, one of the things that’s interesting is I think when cases actually become really active, they start hearing about what’s happening in 3M and the news, for example, they might say, “Oh, I haven’t heard from my lawyer in three, four years. I don’t know that I have a lawyer anymore.” And so they go hire a new lawyer, you get the double, triple, quadruple representations. So, again, we’re talking about client engagement. Client engagement is a very big way to proactively prevent that from happening.
Susan Barfield (15:28):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. How do you like to schedule your client updates?
Patrick Luff (15:33):
We do them monthly. So we do monthly updates of what’s happened over the last month. Sometimes we send out particular documents, sometimes we don’t, it depends on how much we can digest the document for the clients, because the risk that you run is sometimes you get more emails saying, “I have no idea what this means.” And so you’ve got to be careful about that, but we do both the monthly emails throughout the life cycle of the case. Sometimes it says, “Hey, not a whole lot’s happened in the last month.” Sometimes that’s going to happen, right?
We do that and then we, as I said, have these automated touchpoints at various life cycles of the case. And then going forward, the plan is to start doing the town hall meetings quarterly as another means of just varied client engagement and of course, you can do now things like video, email, or text messages too. So, again, I keep harping on what they do in other industries, particularly things like sales. There are varied ways that you can communicate information now, made very easy by technology, and this variety of media seems to be very effective.
Susan Barfield (16:56):
Yeah, you mentioned videos, and that is one thing, people don’t like receiving emails and they’re really long, and especially if we have different steps required to obtain the documentation that is needed, but we will shoot a quick video and just by having done this for eight years, worked up hundreds of thousands of cases, we measure and track everything. And we’ve noticed that when we send out an email just with the word “video” in the subject line, we have an 85% open rate, which is much greater than just sending out a regular email.
So, anyway, just some free advice for those folks that are listening that you can record a video like you just mentioned, they’re so effective, but just put video in the subject line and you’ll get a much greater open rate. But talking a little bit about, in all of these torts, there’s always a push and a need to gather missing information or documentation, and do you ever have issues getting information from clients and is this the means by which you reach out to clients and try to obtain missing information and documents?
Patrick Luff (18:04):
Absolutely. I mean in any litigation, one of the difficulties is getting client information. Hopefully we minimize that to the extent possible with these client engagement initiatives that we’ve been talking about, but what do you do when, for example in 3M, you get the order that says, “We’ve got to produce the DD214s within X amount of time?”
Well, I think you do what we’ve been talking about, and again, what you would see in other industries, which is you have a variety of media. You do maybe an email, you do a video email or a town hall or both. And the email with the text is a good reference point. They can keep it and they can refer back to it if they’re actually going through the work and trying to get the information we’ve requested from one of the websites we’re talking about.
But if you have a person who’s looking at the camera and telling you, “Hey, here’s what the judge has ordered, here’s why she ordered it, here’s what we need from you and when. You can refer back to your email if you have questions about the steps. You can call our office if you have questions about the steps.” That’s, I think, the best way that I’ve thought of or heard of that you can really get good client buy in at those phases.
Susan Barfield (19:31):
Well, and two, just this regular cadence of being, as you said earlier on, proactive, there is always going to be a reason that we need to reach out and talk with the plaintiffs so we need them to pick up the phone or we need them to respond, especially if it’s, like you’ve mentioned in 3M, if there’s a deadline and we need things done quickly, they are going to become accustomed to the emails and the text messages and they’ll be much more responsive. We have, over the years, been contracted to go into law firms that have a large docket, let’s say 10,000 cases, and they sat on those cases, those retainers are a year old and it is just so sad-
Patrick Luff (20:15):
Or three years old.
Susan Barfield (20:16):
Or three years old, for sure. And to say that, I mean we would be ecstatic to get 50% of those folks reengaged, and it’s really a shame to see how much money was spent on marketing, all the work spent to obtain those clients, and then you only have 50% that are even responding. It’s just quite sad when you can do something as simple as just have a regular cadence of outbound communication.
Patrick Luff (20:42):
Well, it’s not just that. The sad part for me is that the clients have gotten poor representation. You’ve got a duty to inform your clients and you haven’t upheld that if you haven’t been communicating with them regularly.
Susan Barfield (20:56):
Right. Now, it sounds like, just from talking to you the few times that we’ve connected, is that the Luff Law Firm really provides a client-centric experience for your clients, and I’m just wondering, do you think it’s possible to have, for other law firms, to be able to have this client-centric type of experience and provide incredible customer service while still achieving optimal legal outcomes?
Patrick Luff (21:24):
Well, ask me again in five or seven years and I’ll let you know, but I think obviously it is. And one of the things that we’ve done, this is just taken from general business world theory, is we have core values, we have strategic objectives, and by putting customer service and related values at the forefront, it’s something that serves as a load stone or as a standard of, are we meeting that or not? We are always looking for ways to improve, and I’m certain that we don’t do anything near to perfect, but I think even the mentality of being aware of it and focusing on it is more than half the battle.
Susan Barfield (22:18):
Yep. Yep. I think many law firms, they underestimate the power of just, we’ve been talking about it for the last 20 something minutes, it’s just the power of the communication. And as I shared before, it’s not necessarily every 30, 45 days reaching out to the plaintiffs. Like I shared, we have someone on our team that her whole background and history is about B2C marketing and what is the message that you share with clients and plaintiffs to get them to, if there’s a call to action or something that’s needed?
But we don’t spend enough time on these streams talking about client engagement and maintaining client engagement throughout the entire litigation process and just the power of keeping these plaintiffs informed, it just goes a long way and not only provides a great experience, but at the end of the day, of course we want to work up as many cases, we want to help as many people, but firms are looking at what is the ROI of the money that they spent? And it’s something as simple and easy as texting and videos and town hall meetings, yes, it’s a lot of work, but it pays off extremely in the end.
So, anything that you would share with attorneys that maybe are listening that, I think a lot of people just feel a little overwhelmed if they have large dockets and they just like, “I don’t really know how to do this?” Any words of wisdom?
Patrick Luff (23:52):
Well, I don’t know about wisdom, but I can steal a quotation that I read a couple of months ago. I think there’s a lot of concerns, or at least antagonism towards technology and change. There are huge changes that are occurring in the legal industry, particularly in the mass torts industry right now. Some of it has to do with litigation financing and access to capital. Some of it has to do with technological advances and what that allows us to do both in terms of the communication tools that we have that we’re using on this very call, and some of them have to do with things like AI and automated client communication.
So there’s a real confluence of a lot of different things going on right now, and I think a lot of people are resistance to that. So here’s the quotation that I’m going to mangle and repurpose, which is, if you don’t like change, you’re really not going to like irrelevance. So I think that’s the words of wisdom that I could try to-
Susan Barfield (24:56):
That’s right. Yep, absolutely. Well, good. Well, Patrick, thank you so much for taking time to talk about client engagement. Again, we spend so much time talking about the updates and insights on the torts, we talk about medical records, reviewing them, the case development, but we just don’t spend enough time talking about, like I said, providing this client-centric approach for the plaintiffs, and then just how critical it is for everyone involved to keep them engaged throughout the process.
And just by keeping, selfishly for Case Works and working up the cases, we want to keep them engaged because that means the ability to get the case to a compensable level is so much easier if we just did, like you said in the very beginning, set expectation and then just be regularly communicating. It makes the whole process so much easier for everyone involved. So, thank you so much for speaking on this important topic and taking time to connect today.
Patrick Luff (25:57):
Anytime. Thank you.
Susan Barfield (25:59):
Okay, thank you.