34. Stephanie Forbes, Forbes Consult — Get the Maximum Recovery: Improving Case Management

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Stephanie Forbes has seen – and improved – the inner workings of some of the most successful firms in the nation. The COO turned consultant is on a mission to help growing firms replicate their success. Owner of Forbes Consult, Stephanie helps Personal Injury Law Firms capitalize on maximum results by teaching swift, quality case management, and elite customer service.

Today, we discuss how systems can make firms of any size run more efficiently and reap larger margins. We cover when and how to train new hires. And she reveals how to get the maximum recovery through proper case management.

What’s in This Episode

  • Who is Stephanie Forbes?
  • What did she learn while working at some of the largest firms in the nation?
  • How have her mentors helped make more successful firms?
  • How does she get new hires with no personal injury experience up to speed in just days?
  • How do her systems help make firms more profitable?
  • What aspects of case management are most overlooked when trying to get the maximum recovery?

Transcript

Stephanie Forbes

I’m able to point out measures that can actually enhance their current on-the-table settlements to where I’ve changed the value just from being involved in a conversation.

Sonya Palmer

Even successful firms can use an extra set of eyes to increase profitability and build a stronger practice.

Stephanie Forbes

My goal is never to go into a firm and completely overhaul what they’re doing because I don’t want to shake the ship too much. However, if I can see within their process that it works, but they tweak a few things, they can really maximize their profits.

Sonya Palmer

In 2021, women made up over half of all summer associates for the fourth year in a row. Yet equity partners and multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men. Only 22% of equity partners are women. We would like to see that change. Hello and welcome to LawHer, the show where we celebrate the trailblazing attorneys and entrepreneurs who are changing the game for women in the legal fields. Be inspired by their stories, learn from their mistakes, build community, and look forward to the future they’re helping build for the next generation of women in law. I am Sonya Palmer, your host, and VP of operations at Rankings, the SEO agency of choice for personal injury lawyers. This is LawHer.
Stephanie Forbes has seen the inner workings of some of the largest and most successful firms in America, and she’s on a mission to help others replicate their success. Forbes Consult helps personal injury law firms capitalize on maximum results by teaching swift quality case management and elite customer service. And she gets results for her clients time and time again. Today we discuss the systems that can make firms of any size run more efficiently with larger margins, and we cover when to train new hires. And she shares the overlooked areas when it comes to getting the maximum recovery. A fierce determination to be the best at her profession motivated Stephanie to work her hardest. Before she opened her business, she started as a paralegal. She shares the events that inspired her career path. Let’s dive in.

Stephanie Forbes

I was 18 years old, and a friend of mine had sold me a car. And when he sold me the car, he’s like, “Oh, just make my monthly payments. I only have 10 more payments, and I will just write off the car to you.” And I gave him all the payments and when it was time to write off the car, found out that he basically had not made any payments. The companies were out to get him and to repo his car. Long story short, my car was taken away from me, and when it was taken away, I felt so helpless cause I didn’t know the laws. I was so young. And at that moment, I would say it birthed me wanting to make sure that no one else would ever be taken like that ever again. It lit a passion in me to no matter what I did, I just didn’t want whoever my client or customer or consumer was to be taken advantage of. So it became me just making sure that I was the person in between the company and the client, making sure that everybody got what they deserved.

Sonya Palmer

I think it says so much about a person, and we hear this often where people needed someone and, at that moment, they couldn’t find that. So then they go to try and fill that void to make sure that nobody ever kind of feels the way that they did or were in that position.

Stephanie Forbes

At the time, I was in a homeless shelter too. I was young, and my mother had thrown me out. I had nowhere to go. I remember I was working at AAA, and I was in front of this shelter, and this woman was with her baby daddy. And when she was with him, and they were talking, he’s like, “So what do you want to do with your life?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, I’m just in college right now.” He’s like, “Well, what do you like to do?” And I’m like, “I love to research. I love this, and I love this. I love helping people.” And then he’s like, “I think you might want to look into being a lawyer.”
And then before I did that, I decided to walk by a law firm, and the lawyer there told me, “Hey, why don’t you go take some paralegal courses, see if you like it, see if it’s something you want to do. And if you do like it, then your first internship after you graduate will be with me.” So two years later, I’d knock on the door, and I get a job with him. And soon thereafter, I end up working at the largest law firm in America.

Sonya Palmer

Wow. I want to back up a little bit. I’d read that you had a challenging youth. Would you mind sharing your story with us?

Stephanie Forbes

When I was younger, my mother, all she knew growing up was just throwing people out of the house. I mean, my siblings left for certain reasons. At 16, and 17, she sent them on their way, whether they went to relatives or whichever. I didn’t have anyone to go to. So when I was young, my mom basically told me to leave the house. I was like 16. That particular time it was just… We were arguing, and I thought, “Oh, maybe if I show her some remorse, she would basically let me stay.” She had no remorse. I ended up leaving and staying with someone who ended up being just a not-good person. He gave me a two-day notice to leave his place because he said his son was moving with him, and he and his wife weren’t able to have me living there anymore.
So then I had to go to a homeless shelter. So that brought me into the whole legal realm because, during the time when I was in a homeless shelter, I had to trust people. I had to do certain things to help myself move forward. And I was taken advantage of over and over again. And I had to realize, okay, in this world, I’m on my own. I have to figure out what laws, and what things are going to protect me so that I could never be in this vulnerable space ever again. And so I think that for me, getting involved in the law and knowing as much as I know within my field, it was for self-preservation. I came to work at 400 AM. I left work at midnight. I wanted to absorb and know what I needed to know to be the best in the business.

Sonya Palmer

Then what was your college experience like?

Stephanie Forbes

So I went to Valencia and did a two-year track of paralegal studies. It was the first ABA-approved school back in 2005. And then, I went on to UCF, and did pre-law, which was political science. So I got into all the politics and understood that. And then, I really started working at one of the number one law firms in America, Morgan & Morgan. And I met a lot of really talented attorneys there. I mean, I would pick the brains of the best. And I would say that firm alone shaped me, that firm amongst other firms because I was a COO of another law firm. But these firms have all shaped me to be really who I am today. And there’s a reason why Morgan & Morgan is number one. I mean, they do things a certain way, and if other law firms could take the guidance of some of these bigger firms where I’ve seen all the guts of, because I’ve either worked with them or worked in them at some point in my career, they would learn more efficient processes that could help them prosper and scale their firm.

Sonya Palmer

So did you have any mentors, anyone you could turn to?

Stephanie Forbes

Yes, actually. So one main mentor that I’ve had in life is an attorney by the name of Joe Polich. He worked for Troutman. He used to be the president of the Florida Bar Association. He has been doing this since he was 25. He’s been practicing for over 32 years. And the wealth of knowledge. I mean, he taught me theories that the average person would know, like economic losses and personal injury, just certain nuances that you could do to get certain settlements rendered. I mean, he just had an old-school way of doing things that are currently lost, I would say. And some of the things that he’s shown me, even I was able to show some of the… I was able to show Morgan & Morgan. Dan Newlin’s a really great law firm.
A lot of these big law firms may have been missing little tidbits of information, but they had the bulk of it. Because even with Morgan, I mean, there are so many heavy hitters. There’s Keith Minnick. There was Scott Bates. There’s Nick Panagakis. There are so many attorneys there, Sean Shaughnessy, that are just brilliant, brilliant. And they just sit, and they’ll stay at this firm, and they’ll be loyal. And the things that they have tried and have tested and have won, to listen to them, to hear them, to work with them and pick their brains. I mean, it’s an art. It’s an art. It’s so beautiful.

Sonya Palmer

And you were thrown into the fire pretty quickly. I read that you ran a PI firm for three years, utterly absent from an attorney on site as they were within a different city, and then just one legal assistant and over 390 cases.

Stephanie Forbes

I can’t even name that firm because I think that it would be incriminating to do so. But yeah, it was 390 cases. I was thrown into the fire, I mean, right out of school. And at that time, I recall not even really knowing how to write a demand letter at that stage. And on my first two days, I wrote nine demand letters, got those out, and started settling cases in Florida where the [inaudible 001008] are a little bit less. I would settle about 40 grand in fees a month and run that office with a legal assistant. Basically, she would do our intake. She would go in person to get intakes and bring them back in. I would process the claim. The attorneys were in a completely different city, and I did that straight for about two and a half years. And finally, they decided to hire an attorney for that office because they’re like, “Oh man, you brought us a speed to the point where we made enough money that we could hire an attorney to be a managing partner of this office.”
A little bit thereafter, my dad died. Just a hard time for me. And Morgan & Morgan, actually, I reached out to the firm, and I talked to one of the Morgans, and I said, “I really would like to come back. My dad’s passed. I don’t feel safe at any other law firm right now. I just need to get my head together and stuff.” They welcomed me back with open arms. I say that one of the reasons why that firm is just so prosperous is because of the fact that their people… They really truly care about their staff. So they brought me back, and I learned a lot more, even then. So after working with them, I decided to go work with another law firm as a COO. And that is where I came up with the whole training company doing nationwide training for personal injury.

Sonya Palmer

So what were some of the systems that you put in place to make it all work?

Stephanie Forbes

So in personal injury, there are so many things that happen. Right? And it’s tough to… It’s almost like you almost have to fail and fail and fail again in order to even make it out. I would say you find a good groove at around three years, but then certain things may happen where you may find a good groove at three years, but what efficiencies can you… I’ve seen firms that have been set up for 12 years and doing incorrect things. I mean, they’ve been surviving. But then, when I come in, and I go through their intake process, and I see how they’re managing their cases, how are they reviewing their cases? How are they communicating with their doctors? How many demands are they sending out per month? How many cases are they assigning per case manager? What are their timelines for when things are getting completed?
Once I go through and I scope out how a particular firm is doing certain things, at that point, that’s how I know what I can implement to make them more effective and put more money within that firm pockets. My goal is never to go into a firm and completely overhaul what they’re doing because I don’t want to shake the ship too much. However, if I can see within their process that it works, but they tweak a few things, they can really maximize their profits. I’ll give you one scenario. I was with a firm where their top offer was 40 grand on a case, and the managing partner spoke with the client, the head attorney, and a case manager talked with the client. And for some reason, there was just a loss in communication. When I got involved, I was able to talk to the client, and really convey more information about her case to her in more layman’s terms, and within a week, she moved forward with the procedure, making the insurance company tender a $300,000 policy.
So my system is I review everyone’s efficiency within their firm to see if there’s a way that we can maximize that. And the first thing I go to town with is educating case managers and staff on medical terminology, understanding certain… With certain impacts, what can you do to maximize that case value? And then how to show firms how to even close cases quicker so that their cash flow comes in. There are times when I’ve seen one firm fire 15 people one day because they realized that they had ghost inventories. They came in, and they realized that a lot of the cases that we have aren’t really cases. We were just hiring people thinking that we need them and not being able to effectively go through their cases and figure out what was going on. The right case management software is just important to run an effective law firm. Some of these systems out there they’re selling to attorneys, and personal injury attorneys and it’s just… When I say it’s mayhem, how it’s affecting the money they make. Oh my goodness. I will tell people on certain systems to get off.

Sonya Palmer

I believe it.

Stephanie Forbes

Just get off.

Sonya Palmer

Stephanie offers many services. One that stands out is the ability to get new hires with little to no personal injury training up and running in just a few days. She shares what goes into such a quick onboarding process.

Stephanie Forbes

I will say there is a point with a new hire that’s so amazing, that they’re wanting to learn, absorb knowledge, and know their job because they’re in a heightened sense at that moment. They’re like, “I just got this job. I want to keep this job. How do I succeed at this job?” They’re really nervous in the first couple of days. So most companies do this, but law firms generally haven’t gotten involved in this part. If I’m able to capture them with eight hours of just intense learning material, which is within their first day where they’re going through the training material and then we are going over cases where I’m applying the training to their physical caseload so that I can show them how do I look at five cases and you show me how you see the next five cases. And then we work through the first 30 days, we generally work through a lot of more complex scenarios.
However, the reason why it works, in the beginning, is that the person’s just so anxious to want to do a good job, they’re going to absorb the knowledge, and they’re going to listen to what you have to say. And generally, during that time, I can go through their caseload and say, “Look, these 10 demands, we just went over how do you do a demand, these 10 are ready to go. Let’s go ahead and send them out.” They draft them, I review them, and I’m catching anything. We’re going over it together. I had a case manager in Florida, never worked in a law firm, and never stepped foot in a law firm before, trained her with my program, and she sent out 10 demands her first week. She’s right now one of the top case managers in the firm because she truly understands, through my training, how to maximize case value.

Sonya Palmer

Yeah, I love that period right after they’ve been hired, where they’re super ready to learn, and absorb information. I’m going to steal that and use that for my own team. After that, are there continuing education resources that you offer?

Stephanie Forbes

Honestly, that’s why I offer a year-round. Right? Because I noticed that I don’t want to let the chickens go so quickly. So what happens is that I do believe there’s a period of absorbing the information and then potentially getting back into old habits or allowing other employees that have been relaxed and haven’t done the systematic approach could influence you. So I do like to go through the whole year, and check in at least once a month. I also allow companies to just request the training that they want throughout that time. But I generally will say for sure at least once a month I’m going to upload a new training, comprehensive topic, and if another firm says, “Hey, I want a topic on this,” generally, I will upload that same topic for the other attorneys as well so they can all get access to that information. And I also do auditing of at least 10 cases each month within that. So I can track that they’re actually applying what they’ve been learning to their cases.

Sonya Palmer

Amazing. That’s a lot. You also work with experienced case managers and attorneys as well. What can a firm that brings you in to train the existing staff expect to see?

Stephanie Forbes

Those are my favorites. So a lot of times, with the existing staff, I’ll have people with, really, a varied amount of experience. Some 3, some 15, I had a lady with as much as 30 years of experience. And what I’ve come to learn is that the ones with more experience tend to not want to deal with the training as much. So what I normally do for those is I actually start reviewing their cases first. I’ll look at their cases, and then once I’m able to pull out scenarios where things could have been done better, that’s when they are more welcoming because you’re like, okay. So what I’ve noticed is that when you have tenured staff, they will be more absorbed in your material, they will become more connected, and you’ll be more persuasive in terms of what you need to know if I review their materials.
So I generally review their materials and let them know what they’re doing wrong there. So, from that point, they’re more receptive to the information that I have to say. Generally, when I go into a firm, I always find, even looking at one case, one or two cases, it pretty much pays for my fee because I’m able to point out measures that can actually enhance their current on-the-table settlements to where I’ve changed the value just from being involved in the conversation. So I teach the staff how to do that as well coming in. And with tenured staff, they tend to… When they see the arguments, when they hear my knowledge, and when I go through their cases with them, I immediately win them over.

Sonya Palmer

What are a few overlooked areas when it comes to getting the maximum recovery for the case management process?

Stephanie Forbes

I think one of the main things that you’re looking for is passion, and it’s going to be the passion and the customer service and the rapport with clients. I think that when you have a lot of those things… Medical terminology is also one. There are a lot of small talking points and techniques that I show with your caseload that really helps a person think outside the box. I’m big on critically thinking through scenarios and throughout me reviewing cases with attorneys that have won billions in trials, and I can take the conversations and the knowledge from all these different points.
I mean, at this point in my career, I’ve worked at a great deal of the big law firms. I worked with Morgan for a really long time. But I would say that the firms just within my service that I’ve had the opportunity to audit, to review, to train, I think that it puts me light years ahead of anyone because I’m seeing scenarios and I’ve seen processes and efficiencies on all different spectrums from a lot of different states, and I can pull those into my already existing knowledge and help at this point just about any firm because my business hasn’t been created before this. I mean, not exactly what I’m doing. I’m just someone just on the first edge of this scenario.
So me going in and reviewing cases as a case manager paralegal and listening to the vulnerabilities, cause I have NDAs in place of the attorneys, and I’m able to go through and listen to them and hear what’s truly happening, things that they don’t want to admit to their peers, and I can go in there and fix these issues. No one ever has to know. I don’t ever talk about it. Me having that type of lens at this point, I feel like it puts me in a different position to help other firms scale their business in a way that has never been done before.

Sonya Palmer

And that’s invaluable, what you’re providing because you’re able to fix a problem that nobody else is really able to do.

Stephanie Forbes

I would say that it allows me… The training that I actually do is going to be an eight-hour course on Salesforce. It’s a software that I created on top of Salesforce that allowed me to output my training to all the firms and has quizzes. And then I also have a book and supports method, and I basically talk about how to do a lot of these processes and how to combine all of these into one successful process or really I just kind of go in there and again, don’t overhaul everyone and change them all into the same system. No, I take what you currently have and I listen to how you enjoy and like to do things. And then, I try to find the best way and most efficient way to pull out how you can scale your own firm with the things that you like to do.
If it’s something that I know is slowing you down, “Okay, look, this is really… You can’t. You got to take this out.” Then, that’s when I’ll tell them, “Okay, this part of your process, I know you like it, I know this is something that you like to do, but we got to… This is killing you.” So that’s the kind of conversation that I have with firms.

Sonya Palmer

New hires are eager to learn. Use this to your advantage. Instill good habits, culture, and best practices. Existing team members are willing to learn too. Evaluate their existing cases and look for places to streamline their processes. When in doubt, seek help. Reach out to Stephanie to help maximize your profits and build an even stronger firm. A big thank you to Stephanie Forbes for sharing her story and unbelievable insights with us today. You have been listening to LawHer with me, Sonya Palmer. If you’ve found this content insightful, and inspiring, or it just made you smile, please share this episode with the trailblazer in your life.
For more about Stephanie, check out our show notes, and while you’re there, please leave us a review or a five-star rating. It really is a long way for others to discover the show. And I will see you next week on LawHer, where we’ll shed light on how another of the brightest and boldest women in the legal industry climbed to the top of her field.

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