Episode #44 of the Personal Injury Marketing Minute tackles leadership struggles in times of crisis. From pandemics to recessions, business leaders in the legal industry have needed to step up their game in order to keep their firms thriving.
In this podcast, Brandon Henderson discusses:
1) Challenges that the pandemic and recession have posed for law firms
2) How to seize business opportunities in times of crisis
3) Embracing reflection on business processes
4) The role of leadership and employee morale and productivity
5) The importance of gratitude
For more information on Brandon Henderson and his legal team, visit https://www.teamhmwwins.com/.
See all episodes or subscribe to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute here: https://optimizemyfirm.com/podcasts/.
Welcome to the Personal Injury Marketing Minute, where we quickly cover the hot topics in the legal marketing world. I’m your host, Lindsey Busfield. Between recessions, pandemics, sick kids, and staffing shortages, the past few years have been tough. We have all faced different hardships, some personal, some financial, some simply intangible. Especially as business leaders, there is a unique set of challenges we face. Not only do you have to juggle your own life hurdles, but you also have to keep the business afloat and take care of your employees. In times of crisis, it isn’t enough for you to simply survive. You need to lead. You need to think two steps ahead in order to ensure that everyone, including yourself is able to stay healthy, confident, and productive. Attorney Brandon Henderson of Henderson, Mokhtari & Weatherly joins us today to discuss leadership strategies in times of crisis. Thank you for joining us, Brandon.
Hey, thank you Lindsey. Thank you so much for having me on. I really appreciate being able to be with you today. I do want to say upfront I am a little bit scratchy on my voice because I do have a bit of a cold, so I apologize in advance about that.
So, we can go ahead and strike out the healthy part of the healthy, confident and productive. I think everybody is going through those spring allergy right at the tail end of cold season. So, I think everybody will probably be listening with the ear of that scratching in their throats anyway.
It’s going around.
Well, anyway, besides having a slight cold, tell us a bit about yourself and about your firm.
About Brandon at Henderson, Mokhtari & Weatherly
Sure, sure. So, again, my name is Brandon Henderson. I am the managing partner, as well as the founder of Henderson, Mokhtari & Weatherly, which we actually just call HMW Law because we realize that it’s a bit of a tongue twister between the names. And Lindsey, we handle personal injury cases as well as criminal defense cases throughout the entire State of Ohio. We’re headquartered here in Cleveland, Ohio. That’s where I currently am. But we also have an office in Columbus, Ohio. And we are known, I like to think we’ve built over the past 20 plus years a reputation for really being devoted to our clients, for taking on cases that really these folks, it’s flipped their life upside down in the blink of an eye.
It’s a random Tuesday, they’re driving and they get T-boned or lose a loved one, or are charged with something falsely that they could be spending the rest of their natural lives behind bars on. So, for us, the stakes are high and the stakes are high for our clients, and our job as a team is just to embrace those challenges. We do it with our experience, with our passion, and with unwavering devotion to our clients. And we’ve really instilled that in our team. So, that’s a bit about us.
And I love that you touched on how involved your clients are and it’s not just their lives that are being changed, but there are so many stakeholders in these cases where it’s the client who is T-boned in an accident, it’s their family who is missing out on a loved one, whether it’s a wrongful death or whether it’s an injury that’s impacting their ability to take care of their family. I think about my husband. And if he were injured in an accident and I were to be the only person who’s able to lift my baby and my four-year-old, that is a huge piece of life. And so, again, there are just so many stakeholders that are affected by these cases. And that it’s only compounded in recent times where we’ve been faced with pandemic and recession. And as business leaders, staffing issues and health issues and so many shortages that we’ve had to face. So, what are some of the challenges that you and your firm have faced over the past several years due to the pandemic and recession and other crises that have come up?
Post-Pandemic Law Firm Challenges
I mean, we faced a lot of challenges. I think any good business is always going to have some challenges, but obviously the pandemic, recession, economic upheaval certainly presented itself with unique set of circumstances. I think we all agree with that. We realized upfront that it was a very challenging situation. Absolutely no one knew the answers, how long’s it going to last, how to deal with office attendance. Are we going to be able to keep getting new clients, and getting new cases and filling our pipeline? Are we going to be able to feed our team? So, I think that uncertainty was really a challenge for us, as well as I’m sure everybody else that was going through this. And in moments of quick changes like that, as well as tumultuous times, I think that a huge part of dealing with the challenge was the fact that we did have… I do have to say I have great partners in Al Mokhtari, as well as Justin Weatherly, and our team culture is very strong.
Other challenges that we’ve faced on top of the uncertainty, I mean we got to remember this, it was like zombie town. Driving down the streets of Cleveland or a freeway, I mean there’s nobody out. You have the nationwide shutdowns, you have global pandemic, no one’s out there driving and therefore it’s a challenge signing up new personal injury cases. And with as radical of a change that occurred, no one has a crystal ball. In the criminal division on our criminal side, bars weren’t open, concerts weren’t going on. A lot of these places where criminal cases come from, because of social activity with others or social gatherings, a lot of those criminal allegations that arise out of human contact just were no longer there. They were extremely limited. I mean, they plunged.
So, a lot of the challenges that we faced, Lindsey, were due to uncertain external controls. And so, I think one of the bigger challenges, and I think it’s probably easier said than done, is focus on stuff that you can control. I know it was one of the basic tenets of stoicism, but that’s a lot more difficult. Us as attorneys, we want to fix. Us as attorneys, we want to help. Us as attorneys, we want to feel as if we could be of assistance and we have those natural tendencies I believe. And being able to let go and just really focus on the things that we could control was a challenge within itself. And so, I think we actually learned a level of discipline in that regard.
And I would say one more thing, a challenge of just making sure that you’re prioritizing your attention to the right avenues. This is a huge thing that can impact your business. I think the masses, a lot of the people, I’m not speaking about anybody in particular, but a lot of people that I noticed were focusing on economy, which I understand. They’re focusing on the stock market, they’re focusing on the stats of how many coronaviruses are in their county, stuff like that. Whereas, we tried to really maintain a focus on our team and on our business and on the things that we could control. And that was very challenging for us as well.
Those are excellent points. And you touched on a lot of the pieces that are unique challenges for law firms in particular. I mean all of any good business is going to be facing challenges, especially during that really eerie time when nobody was out on the streets and people couldn’t go to work. But law firms did face such a unique set of challenges, especially in personal injury and criminal defense where a lot of your business stems from, as you said, those social interactions where personal injury is all about somebody else’s negligence. And if those two people aren’t coming into contact, then there’s no reaction there that would lead to any sort of case. And so, all of those are really interesting, unique challenges, and focusing on what you can control out of that. What in particular do you see as being under your purview of control to ensure that your business is staying healthy even during times when new cases weren’t necessarily coming in? You mentioned your employees, what else do you see yourself as having control over?
Taking Control Where You Can
Yeah. Because again, we couldn’t control what judges were doing with cases. We couldn’t control, when all this occurred, there was stuff put on hold where our clients on the criminal side might not be able to get bonded out for over a year because their cases were literally just stayed. Different judges were doing different things. So, it was almost having to relearn a lot of the 60 to seven different courts that we appear in, as well as federal court. But I think with regards to your question of what did we try to do to ensure the health of the business, I would say that I think the government is usually behind the business sector with regards to efficiencies, with regards to embracing of technology.
And what I will say is that a big part of them, the courts now embracing some of the technology was instead of driving around 5, 6, 4 court hearings per day, and you can get a lot of meaningful things done during that driving time, but when the court started to realize that we don’t have to have hearings that aren’t really substantive at all, and we could do those by nature of Zoom or Microsoft Teams, that to me, minutes matter. And that saved a lot of time for our entire team, because there was a lot more time to focus on things, to review files, to work the cases. It had that unintended benefit in a way of allowing our attorneys more time to be present, to meet with clients more, to talk to clients more. And so, they saved a significant portion of their time in the court doing that.
Another thing that we did to stay healthy, and that was sort of like I said, that was an unintended benefit of the court, but we made sure that we prioritized once we had that advantage to do so. Even though we couldn’t necessarily control the faucet really anymore with regards to actual metrics on new clients coming in the door, we had less overall leads, there’s certainly a lot less qualified leads. And so, one of the things that we did to stay healthy was really maintain and take a closer analytical look at customer service, customer service, customer service, really just going through that client experience, going through the entire client journey from the time the first phone call comes in till the time either the case is settled for them or till we go to trial or whatever.
Because taking a close look at our intake system really did help us with the qualified leads that did call in, convert those leads. And so, we did a little bit of soul-searching and reflection. I think that many attorneys are uncomfortable with the prospect of learning business processes. I’m an accounting undergrad and so I enjoy a lot of that stuff, but we embraced business aspects and strategies. We weren’t out in court every day as much. So, we took so much needed time and reflection into actually looking at the concepts of business, the marketing, the sales, all the systems that come with operations and financial controls and our culture, our people. So, in reality, it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise due to the fact that those are things that were within our control at that point.
And so, we took a look at a lot of those business processes and we realized that we had neglected some things that we should have put into place, but unfortunately were a little bit maybe swept under the rug or neglected because we were so busy from a legal aspect. And so, even though it may not be sexy, we got back to basics and we got back to focusing our attention on providing a great service, which is law. But on top of that, working on the business, rather than solely in the business. And the more we were able to optimize, automate, strategize about these things, we were really able to create a lot of these internal efficiencies that really actually help the client in the long run. It helps the client get their settlements done quicker a lot of times. Or on the criminal side, it could flow into so many different aspects as well.
And so, there’s that old saying, never let a good recession go to waste. So, we just tried to do what we could to really focus on the things that we could control and continuing to have a mindset of a growth-oriented mindset, a mindset of expansion, rather than crawling under a blanket and giving in. And you also have to remember that a lot of the advertising became a lot cheaper during that time. A lot more people were sitting at home on Facebook or on social media, on Instagram. So, we doubled up some efforts on those. When people were pulling back, we pushed. And I think that that really showed our team inherently that we were all in and that we had their backs.
Another thing I’d like to mention to stay healthy, and this will be a last thing I swear about this topic, but we had clarified expectation upfront and we communicated the message extremely clearly to our entire team that we were not going to fire a single one and that we weren’t going to reduce anybody’s salaries. I had heard a lot of other folks were doing that. We promised that to our team up front and we’re very proud that we kept that promise. So, that’s the last thing I’d like to say. And then when people see that and they see that you’re devoted to them, that really helped us stay healthy through this as well, because everybody realized they had to have each other’s back.
Boosting Morale and Productivity
And that is a fabulous way to support your team as an integral part of your business health, in that you don’t have a business unless you have a team that is running it and you have to invest in every part of your business. And I think that is a great strategy, that you use the extra time to become better, to become a better lawyer, to become better in customer service, to become a better business, and to really enhance the entire offering that you’re providing to your clients. And not only is that going to better serve your clients and their immediate needs, but it’s also going to carry on and have an extra benefit when it comes time for them to refer other people that they know to your business, because you’re going to be better than you were.
And they won’t be able to specifically say, I talked to these people every single time I needed X, Y, Z, and they were on the spot. And so, being able to continue in carrying out that type of service by having better systems in place and better processes in place, is just going to help everybody in the long run and be able to continue that trajectory of health. And you talked a little bit about your employees and how important it was to make them feel secure and feel appreciated. How has that impacted their morale and productivity?
Well, again, I think you treat people like you want to be treated. And here we look for A players. We want people on the team who want to be here, who are passionate about what they do. One of my favorite sayings is Beethoven, “To play a wrong note, that’s okay. To play without passion, inexcusable.” And my plaintiffs, the personal injury side, very passionate about personal injury. So, that’s all they do. We don’t cross. So, we don’t have somebody doing a murder in the morning and a car accident in the afternoon, because they’re passionate about a certain area. The team around the team productivity when this first came out and we really hit that nail on the head, and let them know that we are going to stand by them, and we’re going to do everything that it takes to come out of this better, to create more internal efficiencies, to really work focus on the business because we had to switch up some priorities and adapt.
We had to improvise, and we had to continue to grow and continue to learn. We had to climb up the tree and look out as far as we could, with as best vision as we could, even though it was definitely very foggy and murky at times. But take a look at that landscape to see what we could do right now. So, when that pandemic ended, we could be in a position. So, we continued to pour money into advertising and to double up, like I said on social media, which again, as far as morale is productivity, as far as productivity. When your team members see you’re still plowing forward and you still plan on making this business great and you still are putting your client first and you are fostering a team over individual mentality, that really creates such a strong culture and the loyalty. And I know that people deep down really know that we care about them. And you could tell that they sensed it. So, I don’t know if that answered your question. I can’t remember.
I think it does. And it sounds like that you guys have created a great atmosphere to work in where people feel safe and appreciated and supported, and that just overall boost the morale, and they pour that back into the productivity since you are continuing to invest in getting those leads and getting that work for them. So, with all of this being said, what are some of the best tips that you have for our listeners as they face some of the hurdles that are brought on by the challenges of the past several years?
Tips for Leadership in Times of Crisis
Well, one thing that’s really worked for me is I begin my day early. I’m up early. And a lot of it is not due to the fact that I set my alarm. A lot of it’s due to insomnia. But at some point I had to decide, if you can’t beat them, you’re going to join them. So, I’ll just start reading. And those quiet times of reflection are in my mind ways to overcome hurdles. You’re not sitting in an office, the phone’s not ringing, you don’t hear other folks engaging in discussion. People aren’t constantly emailing you, your phone’s not danging. And so, really in overcoming hurdles, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into making sure that I’m up, again, sometimes not by my control. But that reflection provides me with the ability to gain some momentum and overcomes some hurdles.
A huge tip that I would give, I think the people are your competitive advantage. And there’s the old saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I believe it. Our team with such a great culture will lift everybody. They know if we have trials starting on Monday, they don’t even hesitate. They’ll come in on Saturday. Now, that doesn’t happen all the time, but they are willing to do it. And when you have a great team and treat them with respect and have that team over individual mentality is fostered, that’s the type of loyalty that folks tend to give you. Couple other tips I would say is things that have really helped me recently is looking for ways to automate. We’ve done a lot of automation, putting systems and process in place. This reduces human error, it saves time, it increases productivity, it eliminates inefficiencies. And at the end of the day it allows our team to focus on more challenging things.
The type of people we look for want things that are fulfilling, want more challenging roles. And so, this automation really allows them to step up into doing higher level things. I would say that a great tip is being good to your loved ones as well as your significant other, because those are the people that are with you during the trials and tribulations and the tough times. And so, I think a lot of times people don’t call their loved ones enough and tell them they’re loved. This is life and life only, you only have one of them. So, those folks are going to be there when you’re going through hurdles and tough times.
And I think focusing on creating a better culture, recognizing your team members for the work they do, showing gratitude and appreciation, and showing them how much they’re believed in. At the end of the day, playing with passion, I think is the major tip I could give. I think there’s probably quite a few trials that I’m not sure I would’ve won if I wasn’t as passionate and poured my heart into it. So, I think those are some tips that I would live by.
Well, and at the end of the day, it seems like so much of this is coming down to gratitude, and appreciation, and showing appreciation for your clients, and for your employees, and for your spouses, and your significant others, and your kids, and your families, and everybody who is supporting you as you try to support others and do what you do in and out every day. So, I’ll take a second and say thank you. And I am grateful for you for coming on the show. And thank you for sharing all of your bits of wisdom with us about how to be an effective leader in times of trouble.
Lindsey, thank you so much for taking the time. I know we went a little bit over here. I really appreciate your time and I really appreciate you having me on.
Well, thank you so much.