157. Bibi Fell, Fell Law — Practice Made Perfect: Niching Down and Leveling Up in Trial

subscribe NOW

Bibi Fell‘s (@bibifell) passion for justice is matched only by her compassion and humble ambition. The Founder of Fell Law (@felllaw), Founding Partner at Athea Trial Lawyers (@athea_lawyers), adjunct professor, accomplished trial attorney, and mother, is a true trailblazer. She delves into her unique perspective on the practice – and business – of law. She explains why general practice is costing your firm money and how to hone in on the perfect niche. She shares how she maximizes the value of a case and sniffs out prejudice on the jury.

Links

Want to hear more from elite personal injury lawyers and industry-leading marketers?

Follow us on social media for more.

What’s in This Episode:

  • Who is Bibi Fell?
  • Why are general law practices a fear response?
  • How can identifying passions help hone in on a winning niche?
  • What are the mechanics of routinely securing eight and nine-figure verdicts?

Past Guests

Past guests on Personal Injury Mastermind: Brent Sibley, Sam Glover, Larry Nussbaum, Michael Mogill, Brian Chase, Jay Kelley, Alvaro Arauz, Eric Chaffin, Brian Panish, John Gomez, Sol Weiss, Matthew Dolman, Gabriel Levin, Seth Godin, David Craig, Pete Strom, John Ruhlin, Andrew Finkelstein, Harry Morton, Shay Rowbottom, Maria Monroy, Dave Thomas, Marc Anidjar, Bob Simon, Seth Price, John Gomez, Megan Hargroder, Brandon Yosha, Mike Mandell, Brett Sachs, Paul Faust, Jennifer Gore-Cuthbert

Additional Episodes You Might Enjoy

Transcript

Bibi Fell:

If you find that area of your personality that you love, you can fit that to the law, and it’s so much easier to develop that niche and that specialty when you’re doing something you enjoy.

Chris Dreyer:

For every interest, there’s an area of law that compliments it. To become the go-to attorney, you’ve got to break from general practice, pick a lane and stick with it.

Bibi Fell:

The reality is by keeping all those doors open, none of them are open because you’re never going to be the person who they think of in that moment for that case.

Chris Dreyer:

You’re listening to Personal Injury Mastermind, where we give you the tools you need to take your personal injury practice to the next level. Bibi Fell is a true trailblazer. Her passion for justice is unmatched with unwavering compassion has earned her position in the American Board of Trial Advocates. Bibi is the founder of Fell Law, a founding partner at Athea Trial Lawyers, an adjunct professor, and an accomplished trial attorney, With more awards than I can mention.
Today we delve into her unique perspective on the practice and the business of law. She explains how general practice is a fear-based response that is costing your firm money, how to get past that fear and hone in on a niche that’s perfect for you. We get into the most effective uses of time and energy when preparing for a trial to maximize the case and how to sniff out prejudice on the jury. I’m your host, Chris Dreyer, founder and CEO of Rankings.io. We help elite personal injury attorneys dominate first page rankings with search engine optimization. Being at the forefront of marketing is all about understanding people, so let’s get to know our guest. Bibi comes from a long line of lawyers and her father was a constant source of inspiration. Here’s Bibi Fell, founder of Fell Law.

Bibi Fell:

What really stands out to me is the culmination of a lot of moments, which is that he just loved what he did. When he went to work in the morning, he had a spring in his step. He came home, he was excited to tell us about what he did that day, so it was really his infectious love for being a trial lawyer that caught my eye.

Chris Dreyer:

That’s really rare. Even my mom and dad, and I love my mom and dad, they’d come home and they might complain about work or weren’t exactly excited to go in. That’s got to be different coming home and being happy and wanting to share.

Bibi Fell:

Oh, definitely. It’s interesting and exciting work, so I was drawn to it.

Chris Dreyer:

That’s amazing. Bibi, you were on the LawHer podcast with Sonya Palmer. It was episode 28, so I want to really jump ahead, and I encourage anyone listening to go check out that episode. It’s fantastic. You went through this arc, and you talked about being an adjunct professor, but I kind of wanted to go a different direction and jump ahead, and moving way ahead, you started Fell Law in 2020.

Bibi Fell:

I did.

Chris Dreyer:

I’d like to walk through your process from the initial idea to opening the doors. What was the initial vision of Fell Law and how has that changed over the past few years?

Bibi Fell:

I love being a legal technician. I love practicing law. I love formulating the legal arguments. I love being in trial. I’m kind of a worker bee more than a visionary slash business owner. I actually never envisioned myself being at the helm of a firm and doing the business side. I always thought, well, if I wanted to be a business woman, I would’ve gone and gotten an MBA instead of a JD. I’m doing this because I want to be a lawyer, but what I found over the years is that working in an office for other people, the restrictions that they place on you, the personalities in the office, it was so distracting to me from my love of the law itself that in order to create an environment where I could do what I loved without the other stuff, I had to do it myself.
My vision, initial vision, was I was just going to try cases. I was going to have a very small caseload and I was going to be available to jump into trials last minute. That’s how I started my firm. Then of course, as you know, the pandemic hit a couple months later and all trials came off calendar.

Chris Dreyer:

Yeah. I love that you’re aware that you like the technician side. I guess that’s like the Michael Gerber, the E-Myth, the technician, the manager and the maker, so you’re like the maker and the technician.

Bibi Fell:

Right.

Chris Dreyer:

You have this freedom because this is your business, so how are you being intentional about, hey, I’m going to practice and do trial work. How does the other side of the coin, how do you envision that being facilitated?

Bibi Fell:

Well, I really am trying to slowly and conservatively, I think in part because of the pandemic and because I was a single mom for many, many years as a young lawyer, and so I kind of had this scarcity mindset. I have been very slowly adding to my team the kind of people who can support the business side to free me up to do the technician side.

Chris Dreyer:

Being intentional, you know what you want, and then you can go out and hire those people to let you thrive in your main high value, your HVA, so you can do what you want to do and get passion and purpose out of that.

Bibi Fell:

Yeah. I try to look at everybody on my team as, okay, what’s their highest and best use and what do I need to build around them so that they can spend the vast majority of their time doing the thing that they love and that they’re best at.

Chris Dreyer:

Fantastic. On the marketing side, it’s really saturated in San Diego. You’re in a very saturated market. What goes through your head? How do you market to stand out? I’ll dig in deep because I do have a background in marketing. I want to ask some really specific granular questions afterwards, but what’s your thought process in terms of business development?

Bibi Fell:

I will be honest, I don’t have a thought process. It goes along with what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. I’m good at practicing law and I’m not good at marketing myself. It was actually one of the things that I had to overcome. I was that person who, if I received a compliment, a legitimate compliment about something I actually did well, I would immediately say, no, no, no, and then pass the credit to somebody else. I really had to learn that it is okay to acknowledge that, hey, I’m not great at everything, but there are certain things that I’m really, really good at and be willing to at least accept the compliment from other people. Marketing is not my strong suit. I feel like the success that I’ve had in bringing in business has been because I’m such a good technician and that has been noticed both in the courtroom and then when I participate on committees for legal organizations.

Chris Dreyer:

Let me brag on you for a little bit. You’ve got a nine figure case, you were Woman Lawyer of the Year, and you’re just doing tremendous. You’re also adjunct professor, so you’re doing that as well. You’re staying busy. It’s amazing. The other thing too, what I’ve noticed is those that try cases and are so talented like you, they’re becoming fewer and fewer it seems like from the outside to where a lot more people are trying to just go heavy in the marketing and then they get this great case and then they need to refer it to get maximum value.

Bibi Fell:

That is absolutely true. I’ve been practicing now for 19 years and it’s been such a dramatic shift in the way that the business of law is run.

Chris Dreyer:

One of the things I see too, and you’re out of this kind of rat race, is from a marketing perspective, it’s like, how do we get more reviews? How do we get more reviews? It’s like this push for a quantitative type of practice where it’s as many cases you can get because you get more review opportunities. That’s been a frustration of mine. It’s like, well, just because a firm has more reviews doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a better firm for the consumer.

Bibi Fell:

Right. I feel so fortunate to get my business from referrals only. If my client talks to a friend or a loved one and says, hey, she was my lawyer during this difficult period of my life, they’re not really going to care if I have 100 reviews or five reviews, as long as those reviews are solid and they’re getting a recommendation from somebody that they trust, or another lawyer who’s at the top of their field is just different from what I do goes and says, hey, Bibi’s the best in this space. I don’t have to worry so much about what my online presence is.

Chris Dreyer:

Your firm does have a narrow focus, a specialized focus. On a recent podcast you mentioned that attorneys can’t be experts in everything and that lawyers who focus on multiple areas are doing so out of fear. Can you dive into that and explain why you see a generalized law practice as maybe a fear response?

Bibi Fell:

I’m drawing a little bit on both personal experience as well as what I see a lot of my students go through. I’ve been teaching at the University of San Diego School of Law now for probably over a dozen years, so I’ve seen a lot of students go from that just having graduated into having a blossoming practice. What I have noticed day in and day out is that early on in people’s practice when they’re so focused on where is my next client going to come from, they stand up and they say, I can do that, I can do that, I can do that, and it’s just about everything. They’re so afraid of not having a full plate that they’ll take anything that walks by, anyone who’s willing to pay them and really lose the opportunity to focus in and specialize on one thing that’s going to make them stand out later in the future.

Chris Dreyer:

I think that’s incredibly important because there’s so many personal injury attorneys and every personal injury attorney’s essentially on the same street due to the mobile device that’s nearby. By focus and expertise you can stand out. I’m going to put you on the spot here, and I don’t know how you’re going to answer this. Who knows. It’s like pretend I’m a new personal injury attorney and I’m just covering all areas of the law. What’s something from your specialization that you can recall that just stands out that automatically like, oh, if I was just trying every single case, I wouldn’t have known this and it really was effective in X situation.

Bibi Fell:

The first thing I would say is, if you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing, because the law covers so much ground, and I believe there is a facet of the law for every type of personality. Are you that person who would’ve been a therapist, because that’s me. I would’ve been a therapist if I wasn’t a lawyer, so personal injury for me is an opportunity to tap into both the intellectual part of me that stands out and the emotional part of me that stands out. I want to get that phone call at 10:00 at night when somebody is really upset or the worst thing in the world just happened. I want to be that shoulder. I enjoy that. I thrive in that environment, but there’s so many lawyers I know who if they see a client calling in on their phone, it’s like, that is the last thing I want to do right now. I think if you find that area of your personality that you love, you can fit that to the law and it’s so much easier to develop that niche and that specialty when you’re doing something you enjoy.

Chris Dreyer:

Would you say that there’s a lot of fear though? Do you think that when you do shrink your TAM, your total addressable market, that just by doing that you’re putting a big flag over your head and then you’re easier to be found? What goes through your head, because I would imagine that the fear that you’re talking about, and sometimes it’s like they’re afraid they’re not going to get any cases.

Bibi Fell:

Right, but the problem is if we go back to, okay, who’s our consumer? Who are our referring lawyers? Who are our referring people? They are thinking about one particular case. Let’s say it’s a brain injury case. They’re going to think about who in this space, who in San Diego does brain injury work, and somebody who does a little bit of everything is not going to be the person that comes to mind. It’s going to be the person who either tried the most recent brain injury case, got the highest recent brain injury verdict, or is constantly speaking and running conferences on that specific issue. The fear drives people to say, hey, no matter what kind of case it is, I want to be the one who they’re thinking of, so I don’t want to close the door to slip and falls. I don’t want to close the door to medical malpractice, but the reality is by keeping all those doors open, none of them are open because you’re never going to be the person who they think of in that moment for that case.

Chris Dreyer:

Then that’s where I’d imagine when you do get the case, then the challenge is if you’re doing everything where then someone else specializes, you may lose that case later, but if you’re the expert, you probably retain them.

Bibi Fell:

Right. Exactly, or if you don’t get the case as the expert initially, then that lawyer who gets into trouble because they don’t know what they’re doing is going to call you and refer you the case later. You may get it in the beginning or you may get it in the end, but if you are the expert, it’s going to find its way to you.

Chris Dreyer:

Over the past 15 years in trial, Bibi has earned a stellar track record. She secured a nine figure verdict and was recently sworn into the American Board of Trial Advocates. She dives in her strategy for securing eight and nine figure verdicts.

Bibi Fell:

I feel like that is what separates me from the pack; is that I don’t have a cookie cutter response to the different types of cases that I’ve tried. Every case is unique, it’s its own. Every client is different, and I really dive in to the case to what the motivations of the different actors were in my case. Like I said, I probably would’ve been a therapist, so I’m constantly looking at everybody in what they do and saying, well, why would they do that? Well, why would they do that? It’s that childlike curiosity that keep asking, well, why? If you have kids you know. It never stops, but if you can retain that childlike curiosity about your cases, you get to the human core, which is the part of the case that everybody, no matter what socioeconomic background you are, no matter what your political leanings are, that core of humanity that understands the behavior. That’s where the case lies, but it takes diving in and becoming part of the scene and putting yourself in everybody else’s shoes to find that core.

Chris Dreyer:

You said the therapists coming out, that’s putting on that empathy hat and that’s incredible. I want to take it a different direction. Most people don’t talk about this and I have no idea. Is there a case that you lost that had an impact on you? In retrospect, you’re like, I should have went this direction, I should have told this story, or is there a case that stands out that you’re like, geez, this is the one that comes to mind?

Bibi Fell:

Yeah, absolutely. I had a medical malpractice case. I had three defendants. Every defendant agreed that somebody did something wrong. They all disagreed as to who did it. What I ended up with was a jury that was very split. Again, the jury all agreed that somebody did something wrong. They just disagreed on who did that wrong thing, so I couldn’t get nine as to any particular defendant. Now, we have a jury instruction that helps in that situation in California where if the jury can’t figure out who, if all these acts combined and the jury can’t figure out who did the wrong thing, then everybody’s responsible, but the judge didn’t give us that instruction, which I do think was appealable error. The decision was made by the client, by my firm that we were not going to go ahead and appeal. That decision haunts me. Number one because I think that my client deserved the instruction. I think if we had the instruction we would’ve gotten a very favorable verdict for her, but for reasons outside of my control, we didn’t go down that path.
Then going back to trial, what could I have done differently in trial? I made the strategy call in trial to tell the jury who I thought was most responsible in closing. Looking back on that, I wish I had not have. I wish I had just said, look, somebody’s responsible. They all agree. It is your job to figure out who or what combination, and if you can’t agree, put it on everybody. I wish I had not taken a position to favor some defendants over others. That was really me thinking that the jury was going to be thinking the same thing as me, when the reality is with so many different people with so many different backgrounds and the way that they’re perceiving each individual defendant on the stand, there was no way to know, no way to be sure enough to make that strategy call. That’s kind of the one that haunts me.

Chris Dreyer:

Well, thank you for sharing that experience and look at things in retrospect. I’m sure you’re like, that’s the one I wish I could go back and change, but guess what? When you have the next trial that maybe has a similar situation, you can apply that.

Bibi Fell:

Right. Every trial has that moment. It comes in different ways, but as trial lawyers, we live and breathe the case for years, and it’s human nature. We apply what we’re thinking and the lens through which we view the world to everybody else around us, so there are so many moments where you have to check yourself and say, hey, is everybody in the room where I am, or should I play it a little more safe?

Chris Dreyer:

Got it. I want to switch gears just a little bit. I want you to put your teaching hat on. You teach advanced trial advocacy. Beyond preparing for the case, if you had limited time to prepare, where would you focus your time and energy?

Bibi Fell:

I’m in that situation all the time. If I have limited time to prepare, I am focusing my time and energy on cross-examination of the defense, corporate witnesses, the defendant bad actor or the defense experts, because we win cases when we can prove our case through the other side. There’s this hierarchy of believability, and my client said it is at the very bottom of the pole. At the very top is, look, everybody in this room agrees. That is where I could focus the case, I would focus the case, is what am I going to get the other side to agree to.

Chris Dreyer:

When selecting a jury, how do you sniff out prejudice? When selecting a jury, how do you sniff out prejudice?

Bibi Fell:

It’s hard, and it’s a little different now. Back when I first started trying cases, we would have 20 minutes, 30 minutes for 40 people. My go-to on sniffing out prejudice is making everything okay. Whatever your opinion is, whatever your gut reaction is right now, right here, right now, that gut, it’s okay. To make people make an environment where diverging opinions are okay and comfortable, which is harder and harder and harder to do now in our climate, and to say that sometimes the patriotic thing to do is not to serve; to acknowledge that this particular case is not the right case for me. It is just as patriotic not to serve as it is to serve in the right case.

Chris Dreyer:

I love that. I’ve got a couple of rapid fire ones here. What makes a winning opening statement

Bibi Fell:

Credibility. By being able to say, this is what the evidence is going to show, tell a persuasive story, but 100%, you better prove it.

Chris Dreyer:

Is there a particular technology that you couldn’t live without?

Bibi Fell:

All of it, including low tech. I use PowerPoint. I use models. I use Trial Director. I use a white piece of paper and a pen. I think technology is important. The most important thing though is to use technology differently throughout the course of a trial so that people stay interested.

Chris Dreyer:

You’re a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, only extended to those who demonstrated professionalism and civility in the courtroom. What can attorneys do on an individual basis to be more civil? Then if you do get angry in the courtroom, how do you maintain your professionalism?

Bibi Fell:

Yeah. I think it is so important because I think what people don’t understand is that the way that we act, we way treat each other has ripples throughout the community. People remember that, people talk about it. Even if you don’t realize it, you will develop a reputation. From the moment you start law school or you move into a community, you are building your long-term reputation. It takes an entire lifetime to build, and it takes a split second to lose, and that credibility becomes so important. I have had cases where the judge is somebody who has seen me in context other than trial, or who I have tried cases against or who I have worked for. Because I have led my life in every context with integrity, when that moment to make a judgment call comes, they remember that. I’m the one who has that integrity in the courtroom. I’m the one who has that reputation. If they’re on the fence, I’m going to get the benefit of that. That’s not why I do it, but it’s certainly an important result that inures to the benefit of my clients.

Chris Dreyer:

Fantastic. Where can people go to get in touch with you, and what’s next for Bibi Fell?

Bibi Fell:

Okay. You can email me at bibi, that’s B-I-B-I at fellfirm.com, F-E-L-L F-I-R-M dot com. You can find me on Instagram @bibifell or you can find me on Facebook, Bibi Fell. What’s next for me is now that the pandemic is over and trials are starting to kick back up, I’m going to go back into the courtroom and just keep having more fun.

Chris Dreyer:

Firms who specialize in one area of practice can truly come to understand the pain points of potential clients and establish a reputation as the go-to expert in the field. Once the case is secured and it’s time to go to trial, Bibi recommends focusing on getting everyone in the room to agree. When the defense agrees, it builds credibility and it may result in a larger case value for your client. I’d like to thank Bibi Fell from Fell Law for sharing her story with us, and I hope you gained some valuable insights from the conversation. You’ve been listening to Personal Injury Mastermind. I’m Chris Dreyer. If you’d like this episode, leave us a review. We’d love to hear from our listeners. I’ll catch you on next week’s PIMM with another incredible guest and all the strategies you need to master personal injury marketing.

Get Our Best Personal Injury
Marketing Tips

Delivered straight to your inbox
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Comments Below

Let us know your thoughts

More Episodes