Chad Dudley is a Managing Partner at Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers. Based in Louisiana, the firm has grown to about 225 employees, serving 58,000 clients and recovering over $1.2 billion for them. He’s also one of the founders of Vista Consulting with his partner Tim McKey. Vista Consulting has had the opportunity to work “under the hood” at over 130 plaintiff personal injury law firms to help them build and evolve their scalable systems and processes.
Each time they partner with a firm, Chad and the team follow a prescriptive strategy that’s been proven to drive success. First, they evaluate the intake process for some early gains and results. Next, they look for the biggest cases in the building — you can learn more about that with Jonathan Stark’s Big Case Review process. Finally, they’re ready to attack the average closed fee.
In this video, and the recap below, Chad dives into the first four steps for increasing your firm’s average fee.
1. Attorney rating system
If you boil everything down, the most successful law firms have this in common: they efficiently get the cases with the highest potential to the attorneys with the most skill, and then support their efforts with the best resources. But to actually execute that, your firm needs to dig into the data to understand who are the top-performing attorneys with the most skill. Even if you try to avoid this conversation, it will still manifest itself when you have a case with a lot of potential and it’s assigned to an attorney who may not have the skillset. You’ll still need to discuss the skillset needed for that type of case, but it will be without the broader context, buy-in, and support from the entire team.
It's in the best interest of the client, the firm, and the attorney to make sure cases are appropriately assigned to the best-fit attorney from the start. Chad recommends using a five-tier rating system and making it an intentional, firm-wide exercise. This level of transparency will actually help to alleviate feelings of awkwardness and confusion — if the entire team can agree upon the definition of a “tier five” attorney (someone with a history of high verdicts) and a “tier one” attorney (someone who may be newer and need additional support). Establish the definitions with your team, work with each attorney to accurately assign a tier, and make it an ongoing review process.
2. Pareto point case ranking system
How you rank your cases is critical — it will impact your ability to find the high-value cases that are already in the building. For most firms, the top 20% of files generate 80% of the revenue, so it’s crucial to identify and get your best resources on those cases.
In some of the more traditional case ranking systems, cases are ranked “bottom-up” — you assume a case may be worth $0 to start and increase its value from there as you continue working on it. But Chad recommends using the Pareto Point ranking system, one that assumes every case is a “top 20%” case until proven otherwise.
It doesn’t mean to disregard the other 80%. You still have the systems, processes, and experience within your firm to do great work for those people, but you don’t need to get bogged down by them. Once you have a data-backed system to identify big cases, you’ll start to see more pop up and you can ensure they get to the right attorneys as quickly as possible.
3. Establish a valuation committee
Just as there are different levels of skill in your attorney ranking system, there are also different levels of risk tolerance within your firm. That risk tolerance impacts how attorneys estimate their case values. Therefore, the cases you’ve identified as being above your Pareto Point — that top 20% of cases — should be presented to a valuation committee.
The valuation committee will have a group conversation to decide on two numbers: the minimum settlement value and the top value. The minimum settlement value is a recommendation to the client to not go below this number to settle the case, and the top value is the best outcome possible after taking all factors into consideration. The bigger the gap between those two numbers, Chad argues, the more important the skills of the attorney on that case.
4. Client communication and file reviews
What are your client communication standards? Review your entire process to understand the experience you want each client to have with your firm. How soon should they hear from the attorney? How soon should they hear from the paralegal? How often should you speak with them in the first 15, 30, 90 days? Map it all out and ensure you are standardizing that process in a case management system and measuring it on your dashboards.
Take a similar approach to file reviews. How often should your team pick up a file and evaluate, “What are we doing on this case to add value or get a trial date?” It is a regular and scheduled time to review and reflect to keep the case moving.
Watch the full video with Chad Dudley for even more insight into each of these steps, and to see how Dudley DeBosier has 4X’ed their own average fee after putting them into action.