Defining your Law Firm's Vision
January 19th, 2018
Contributor: Chris Attig
There are estimated to be over 21 million veterans.
Of those, around 4.5 million are considered disabled - they have a medical condition or disability which resulted from their time in service.
That is the market of people who may seek out your legal services as a VSO, accredited attorney, or accredited agent.
Let me share another number: 500-1,000.
That is a rough estimate of the number of active accredited VA attorneys, agents and active VSOs who work nationwide to actively provide a service to that market.
Metaphorically, that's the same as putting 1,000 people in a 4.5 million acre apple orchard.
If you were in a crowd of 1,000 people, and were given access to a field of trees with over 4.5 million acres of apples, what would you do?
* Go to the first tree and eat as many as you could?
* Follow the crowd and eat the apples everyone else is?
* Find the most difficult to get apples so that nobody else would mess with your area?
* Sit back a minute, study the field, figure out where to find more of your favorite apples?
Many attorneys in this practice area go to the first tree, or follow the crowd and pick what they pick. Most VSOs just handle the apples someone else puts on their desk.
The end result is hundreds of attorneys doing PTSD and TDIU claims, and thousands of VSOs working on hearing loss and neuropathy claims.
Why do accredited VA attorneys pick the same niche?
A few reasons.
First, a lot of times, the attorney sees a good intersectionality of a SSDI practice and a VA TDIU practice - the attorney won’t have to market too heavily to veterans to find clients, and he or she has experience with disability law.
Second, a lot of vets out there trying to get from 90 to 100% - it’s the single largest jump in monthly payments, and so you don’t need old claims to recover good past due for your clients.
Third, experts for TDIU claims and appeals are not that expensive, the law is relatively straightforward.
Bottom line: light workload, low entry & marketing costs, scaleable, large market for prospects, and really good margins.
Here’s the problem: everyone is doing it.
Everyone is running to the first apple tree because it seems like the easiest.
To succeed in this practice area - to build a business with low costs, scaleable results, efficient handling, and better cash flow cycles - you really need to distinguish yourself.
You need to go deeper in the orchard where others haven’t yet explored all the untouched apples.
My firm originally made its mark with sleep apnea claims.
When I realized that this type of case could likely become the Agent Orange of the Persian Gulf veterans’ generation, I learned the medicine, taught myself how to win the cases, worked (and continue to work) on scaling a volume of cases for efficiency, and set up marketing campaigns online and offline to draw those cases to me.
I wrote the book on VA Sleep Apnea claims. (Literally: veterans use this VA Sleep Apnea Field Manual softcover book to win their sleep apnea claims without a lawyer or VSO).
But that wasn’t enough….
My law firm needed a Vision.
Why do you need a Vision for your law firm?
The concept of a vision is not really all that well understood in the business world.
Many lawyers view it as a block to check off as they start up their firm. An elevator pitch or a tag line, if you will.
They write down what they want their practice to be, give a single sentence summary to their web designer, and forget about it until the next time they have to update the website.
Others go through the motions without really understanding what they are doing.
They assume that just speaking the lingo of successful businesses will cause success to materialize automatically.
(I know because I've done both of those things)
The old “fake-it-til-you-make-it” approach. Sometimes it works. Until it doesn't.
A Vision is so much more than that: it is your compass as you grow your firm.
* What type of cases do you take (and not take)? Your Vision tells you.
* What type of clients do you work with (and not work with)? Your Vision tells you.
Your Vision for your firm is malleable: it can change, shift, evolve, or mature over the years.
When I first started handling sleep apnea claims several years ago, my firm’s Vision was:
We will become the go-to law firm for DRO Conferences and appeals to the BVA involving sleep apnea and for veterans that trust and respect quality work.
Look at what that helps me figure out:
* We focused our energy on finding and signing sleep apnea cases and clients.
* We worked with veterans whose claim was at the DRO or BVA stages.
* We worked with clients who trust attorneys and respect our desire to produce quality work.
Those 3 points told us exactly how to set up our consultation checklist to size up the client, the case, and the legal context
If a veteran called with a CUE claim on an in-service lumbar spine injury that is eminently winnable, with 25 years of past due at 100%, I didn’t take it.
When a veteran called with a knee rating that was clearly improper, I didn't take it.
Today, my Vision has evolved to something much broader than just sleep apnea appeals. Even as we work to broaden our work and expand our presence before appellate courts in areas of Veterans Law that I think are long overdue for a re-thinking....
...my vision helps me pick the apples I wanted, not the ones everyone else was fighting over.
Anything that’s not your Vision is a distraction.
What if a veteran called us with a BVA remand order on a sleep apnea appeal?
That sounds like it’s right in our wheelhouse, right?
But I would have wanted to know if this will be a client that respects the time it takes to create quality work and who is not going to call every day barking at us to get his case fixed now.
Our Vision gives us the tools to tell us when to walk away from a case or a client.
The Vision is powerful. Here’s what it lets me do:
* My Vision allows me to pick and choose the clients I want to work with.
* My Vision allows me to decide the kind of day I want to have.
* My Vision is what I will measure my success in life against.
* My Vision is what I want people to know me for.
* Helps me stay focused, and not go down rabbit holes
* Tells me what to stay away from and what to say no to.
* Exciting marketing tool that makes people WANT to work with me.
If a Veteran asks you why you work in this area of the law - and I tell them to ask every lawyer that question - which sounds more compelling?
Option 1: I do SSDI and TDIU seemed like a natural fit. Yawn.
Option 2: My firm will be the experts on Sleep Apnea appeals. Even if I can't help them, the next time they are talking to their buddy who was an Air Force pilot and has sleep apnea as a result of all high altitude flight hours, he will remember my firm.
If you truly want to have a business representing veterans - whether you are an attorney or an agent, I do not know how you can succeed without defining your firm's Vision.
There are hundreds of ways to add nuance to your Veterans law practice: many medical conditions like Sleep Apnea that other attorneys can't or won't take are abundant: particulate matter, migraines, extra-schedular ratings, and so much more.
* "Specialize" in one level of the process - DRO hearings in Baltimore, for example.
* Pick a subset of Veterans as your niche: cater to Spanish speaking veterans, or female veterans.
The ideas are there - ripe for the picking, as it were. All you need to do is start defining your vision.
So how do you define your vision?
We will work on that over time, so stick around: tell me your name and email and I will tell you when I write the next post in this series.
Here's a little exercise to begin defining your vision.
Go back over all the veterans cases (or any practice area), and pick the 3 cases in each of these areas:
- Your 3 most financially rewarding cases
- Your 3 favorite clients
- The 3 cases that gave you the most intellectual or professional satisfaction
Write down why each was your favorite, most satisfying, or most rewarding. Then, find the themes that appear in all of them which made them your "best" cases.
Don't lose that list. It's your key to the gold mine of career and professional satisfaction.