The Don’ts and Do’s of Building a Successful Personal Injury Practice through Lawyer Referrals
by Dr. Mark Studin DC, FASBE, DAAPM, DAAMLP
After a lawyer refused to accept my referral of a patient to him, I got my ego out of the way and started asking very difficult questions.
I am probably one of the biggest losers that has ever existed in the personal injury game. A bold, self-deprecating statement, yet the following three examples will underscore what is currently failure technology in building a personal injury practice. I do apologize for writing this article in the first person. However, in order to understand what works, you need to understand the journey of knowing what hasn’t worked and why.
A few years ago, I wanted to get one of the largest PI firms in the area to like me. Therefore, I did all of the obvious things necessary to get them to know me and, henceforth, send patients to me. I delivered reports myself, sent them a client or two, and got nothing in return. Then the holidays came and I was determined to make a lasting impression. I bought them the largest gift basket I could fit into my car, spending $350 dollars on chocolate decadence in a wicker basket.
As I delivered this gift basket, I was greeted with enthusiasm and gratitude. In fact, the principal partner of the practice took me to the storage room in their office, opened the door and showed me the fifty to sixty other gift baskets delivered by other doctors and announced that ours was the best and would be stored in front. For all of my efforts, all I got in return was a referral of a patient that was treated by three other doctors and the case was over two years old. In other words, I would be hard pressed to get paid with the list of liens by the other doctors. I also received a very nice thank-you card in the mail, but nothing else.
Lesson #1: You can’t buy referrals with gifts, no matter how large or small.
I, then, after five years of trying to get a meeting with another large PI firm, got the main partner to accept an invitation to dinner and a sporting event. The lawyer asked me if his son could attend and I eagerly agreed. When he showed up, I found out his son was twenty-three years old and was looking for a free meal and ballgame. I didn’t mind because I hoped this would solidify my relationship with the lawyer. We went to an expensive steak house in New York City, followed by an hour in a cigar bar (yuck!) and a New York Knicks game with very good seats in Madison Square Garden, courtesy of a scalper (excuse me…ticket broker).
At the end of the night, my total bill was $1600, but I didn’t care, as my rationale was that one case would cover my expenses. What I got was the proverbial "kiss on the cheek at the end of the date" with overflowing gratitude. Not one patient referred to me!
Lesson #2: They will drink your alcohol, eat your food, smoke your cigars and go to your ballgames, but it will not buy you a referral.
I then hired a company to create newsletters to send to lawyers showing how chiropractic could help their clients and why the chiropractor is essential to the "team" of treating doctors. I had a well thoughtout campaign, sending one newsletter each month. I had a staff member scour the phone book for addresses of every personal injury lawyer within twenty miles of my office and purchased computer software to maintain the database for sending these. Between the cost of the newsletter, postage for a year, the computer software and my staff’s time, I spent well over $10,000 for the year. I got many "thank you’s" for keeping the lawyers informed of medical-legal issues, but not one new patient referred!
Lesson #3: They will look at what you send and be very appreciative, yet will not refer one patient to you, as it doesn’t impact the outcome of their cases.
After taking my "lumps," I realized after many years that I was approaching the success of my personal injury practice from the wrong perspective. I was just thankful that my family practice supported me; yet, I was determined to have a successful personal injury practice. After a lawyer refused to accept my referral of a patient to him, I got my ego out of the way and started asking very difficult questions.
I contacted my $1600 dinner lawyer and practically begged him to share with me why he wouldn’t work with me. He was very reluctant; however my persistence overcame that reluctance. I wanted my $1600 worth through therapy! The answer was very difficult to hear, but it opened my eyes to the truth.
He shared with me that, "[My] credentials and knowledge base was so poor that [he] didn’t even want my referrals. In addition, [my] documentation was equally poor preventing [him] from using anything I prepared in settlement proceedings or court."
I spent the next two years taking continuing education courses that were meaningful and learned spine, disc, advanced imaging and spinal biomechanical engineering at a level equal to the medical specialist. If I wanted to compete in the medical-legal arena, that was my competition. However, I realized I had a competitive edge; the medical specialist treats the patient one to two visits over their entire relationship and doesn’t understand the continuity of care that lawyers need to prevail. We, as chiropractors, do, with our treatment regimen of two, three or four times per week based upon clinical necessity.
My credentials (curriculum vitae) were now impeccable based upon my additional formal training during those two years, and my knowledge base afforded me the insight of a true "spine specialist." Armed with those two vital pieces of the equation towards success, I returned back to the $1600 dinner lawyer and shared a cup of coffee with him that cost me two dollars.
After a forty-five minute conversation with my profusely thanking him, over the next twelve months he referred sixty new patients to me and that relationship has now lasted over eight years. The same thing happened with many other local lawyers and my practice went from 5 percent personal injury to over 50 percent in a very short period of time.
Over the last few years, I have lectured to 10,000’s of personal injury lawyers nationally, and have discovered in polls during those presentations that the legal profession will not work with you unless your credentials and knowledge base reflect that you are a true spine specialist. Without that documentation, they will be hard pressed to settle any cases, and without the knowledge, will not be able to use you as an expert in court.
The lawyer’s "end-game" is to prevail in either settlement or at trial. That is their business, and if you do not fit into their model, they will not work with you. The chiropractors who are healers and can "grow hair on a cue ball" or "cure cancer," will not help a lawyer prevail in their cases. You have to know spinal pathology, disc pathology, neuropathology and other trauma related injuries and be able to document those injuries accurately. It is not enough to know how to adjust in the personal injury arena. Your ability to get patients well is the given.
The key to success in Building a Successful Personal Injury Practice through Lawyer Referrals is simple and straightforward. Become the "best-of-the-best" through clinical excellence as a spine specialist. Ensure that your credentials reflect that level of excellence by taking meaningful continuing education courses and learning how to write accurate reports that reflect perfect grammar.
You can’t buy your way to success in personal injury; take it from the biggest loser.
On a final note, if anyone tries to convince you they have the best program and you don’t have to work hard, just spend your money…hold your wallet and start running. There are no shortcuts. Success always requires a commitment of hard work.
Dr. Mark Studin is the President of CMCS Management which offers the Lawyers Marketing Program, Family/MD Marketing Program and Compliance Auditing services and can be contacted at www.TeachChiros.com.