6. Brian Chase, Bisnar Chase – Auto Defects Expertise, Hiring/Firing, Continuous Improvement, and High-Value Activities

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Brian Chase is a managing partner and senior trial attorney of Bisnar Chase. He was named 2020 Litigator of the Year and 2019 Lawyer of the Year, and holds dozens of other top-rated honors. In this episode

In this episode Brian Chase of Bisnar Chase talks about being an auto defects specialist, pitfalls that he gas learned from, how having superstar people on your team can make your load lighter, and so much more…

Transcript

Chris Dreyer

The early days of starting any business can be dicey. You invest so much in getting your operations up and running that sometimes you have to cut back on a few things to keep your head above water. For some that might mean holding out on the new photocopier and for others, it might mean delaying those crucial employee paychecks. But my guest today went the extra mile for his staff. When settlements failed to come in on time, he and his partner went to extreme lengths to make sure everybody got paid on time.

Brian Chase

Oh man. It was funny. Uh, well it wasn’t funny. It was scary and fun. Um, but you know, it was just John and I and a couple of employees, uh, you know. Sometimes we’d be in a situation to where, you know, we didn’t get a settlement check in. We weren’t going to make payroll. I’m, I’m proud to say we have never missed a payroll and were those days were behind us. But, you know, early on, we were scratching, trying to grow. You know and as most entrepreneurs know that when you’re starting a business, you know, banks won’t give you a credit line, right? So, you know, now when you don’t need money, they give you money. But back in those days, uh, John and I had, you know, a bunch of credit cards, you know, with $5,000 limits on him, $10,000 limits on them. We had about 10 each. And that was our credit line until, uh, you know, the business finally grew to a point where a bank would loan us money to help us to continue the growth and be where we are today.

Chris Dreyer

My guest today is Brian Chase, senior partner at Bisnar Chase. Brian has distinguished himself as the premier in auto defect cases, has written two books on the subject and is continually holding car manufacturers to account. Join us as we discuss why he got into this niche. What inspired him to write his book and why he’s focusing less on cases to grow his business and more. That’s coming up on The Rankings Podcast, the show where founders, entrepreneurs, and elite personal injury attorneys share their inspiring stories about what they did to get to the top and what keeps them there. I’m Chris Dreyer, stay with us. Brian went above and beyond to make sure everyone in his firm got paid. After all that hustling, I wanted to know what was the turning point where Brian realized that that hard work had paid off and he’d taken his firm to the next level.

Brian Chase

In the personal injury business, there are various things that are kind of landmark, you know. Everybody can market to get cases, uh, and that’s very important, but you know, a really good way is once you’ve established your stuff – you get attorney referrals. And that’s a whole nother, you know, a huge book of business. So, you know, there were a handful of turning points. Firsty you know, when you get your first seven figure verdict, that’s a big deal. Your first eight figure verdict that becomes a big deal. Um, and you market that, obviously people learn about that. Um, you know, if you get a niche and specialize in something like I do with the auto defects, you know, it became a book of business that a lot of people don’t want to do because those cases are so expensive. So, you know, verdicts numbers getting your name out there. Um, I got to, you know, I got to argue with the California Supreme court and got a published opinion. So there were little things like that along the way, along with trial lawyer of the year awards, um, that just slowly but surely allow you to get more business than allow you to grow your business. And, you know, there wasn’t like one silver bullet, but just a lot of little things like that.

Chris Dreyer

One of the things that I want to mention is, you know, if an attorney doesn’t know you and they need to refer an out-of-state case, you know, they’re going to type in, you know, best attorney, they’re looking for the attorneys that can get maximum value, these litigator awards. And so your website, bestattorney.com, you know, that fits in line with, with the, the referral strategy too, and your reputation. So I really applaud you because that’s, you know, that’s a really, you normally don’t see those, superlatives used in like a website name. Right.

Brian Chase

Yeah. You know, I’ve got to give my partner credit for that. And he’s retired now and living Maui and enjoying the good life. Uh, but that was his idea. I got to tell you, back in the late nineties, you know, you had some yellow page ads and that was even kind of frowned upon is unprofessional, but that was really the extent or it wasn’t a big internet presence. And my partner came to me and I think it was 98, 99. And he says, you know, Brian, we need a website. And I thought “a website?, you know, our clients don’t even have computers. You know, you know, why do we need a website?” And, uh, anyway, he really pushed and pushed on it. And then he came up with this idea of bestattorney.com there, because there was no one with websites or law firms with websites back in those days. So it was an easy thing to get. Frankly, I thought it was cheesy. I look back on it now and I realized he was brilliant way ahead of his time. And thank goodness he didn’t listen to me.

Chris Dreyer

Well, I couldn’t agree more. Not only, not only is the domain name brilliant, but a lot of times there’s regulations and stuff like by calling yourself “best attorney”, but you kind of naturally rank for some of those in the search engine, because it has it in the domain name. One of the things you mentioned that I just love was: hey, not only are you a personal injury lawyer, you are an auto defect specialist. Like you have a niche within a niche. So let’s talk about that. Let’s how did you get into that niche?

Brian Chase

You know, it’s, you know, in part luck, but I was very motivated as a young lawyer, but before I was in law school, I remember the Ford Pinto cases where people were, you know, getting blown up and burned. And there were some internal documents that showed that Ford was calculating they can fix a Pinto for $5 a car. And so they, they did the math on that. And then they also did the math on what are they going to pay out and, you know, burn victims and dead people, et cetera. And it was cheaper to pay off plaintiffs and lawsuits rather than fix the car and expose people to that. So that always struck a nerve with me. And I was a young, you know, high school back in those days. Um, and as I was growing up, I was always kind of envious of doctors that, you know, how they can, they save lives. And I was really motivated to have my life’s work. Matter to people and I didn’t want to be a doctor, but I wanted to be a lawyer in that Ford Pinto litigation and my desire to want to help people, sort of pushed me or drove me in the direction of, you know, the David and Goliath, corporate America little guy versus the corporation type cases. And because probably it was Grimshaw versus Ford a long time ago, I think it was 1978, that case. You know, planted a seed to go after the auto industry and see what they do. And been doing it for almost 30 years. And I have uncovered a lot of documents, a lot of information where that kind of stuff still goes on. So it really drives me. It’s it’s my passion. When I’ve got a family come in and they’ve lost a loved one or someone’s in a wheelchair. And I realized that for 10 bucks, five bucks, 50 bucks, that would not have had to have happened. I mean, that really motivates me to get up early in the morning, go fly for somebody. And I, I just get such a satisfaction out of helping people. That’s my way of trying to give back and having my life’s work matter.

Chris Dreyer

Brian’s motivation to help the little guy stand up to the corporate giants is something that I think resonates with a lot of attorneys out there and with the wins and successes he’s had over the years. It’s great to know that there are people like Brian, able to fight in your corner against the big corporations. Now that we knew a bit more about why Brian was so interested in auto cases, I wanted to find out what made him turn his professional interest into not one but two books.

Brian Chase

What sort of prompted that was, was a couple of things. One is Ralph Nader did a book ,I believe it was in the sixties, called Unsafe At Any Speed. And it was about, you know, the auto industry and defects, et cetera. And so I wanted to get his permission to do Still Unsafe At Any Speed. Cause I thought it was a great title just to kind of 30 years later or 40 years later, jump off and take off where, where he left off. And one of the motivators was I get calls from clients. Clients will come in and meet with me and they were, they had their case rejected by another attorney and the attorney told him they didn’t have a case. Um, or lawyers will get ahold of me after I give him a program on how to identify out of defect cases. And they’re like, Oh, I had that case. And I didn’t even know I had that case and I ended up settling the case for $15,000 when it was a multi-million dollar case against the auto industry. So I saw all these cases getting missed and it frustrated me because people were not identifying the cases. So one of the driving forces for the Still Unsafe At Any Speed is to walk people through with a, you know, real life story of a plaintiff to make it an interesting read. But also a checklist on what to look for. So you don’t miss these cases. Cause I, I was just, you know, it was breaking my heart, hearing people getting, you know, no compensation for a very serious injury when they should have been compensated, you know, or they came to me luckily and the case was still viable. And they were told that they didn’t have a case by another lawyer or by another three or four lawyers. And I ended up getting a millions and millions of dollars. So that was the driving force is really to educate attorneys on how to identify these kinds of cases.

Chris Dreyer

What was, uh, what was the second edition that the, the Second Collision? What was the update? The addition to the book?

Brian Chase

Still Unsafe At Any Speed, you know, I probably wrote about 10 years ago. And so just a lot has happened since then on one hand. And on the other hand, a lot hasn’t happened, but I wanted to update it because there have been some changes. One is various changes, but just for an example, uh, I got, uh, I got a big verdict in a seat batch case against, uh, a seat supplier in an auto manufacturer and the auto industry took it up on appeal. Um, we prevailed on appeal and got a fantastic published opinion that really clarified the law in California to make these cases significantly easier. And the auto industry hated that. So I had to update the book in part on, you know, new, new law. Uh, so there’s new strategies now on how to try these cases. So the new book talks about, in addition to newer updates on what the defects are – some have been fixed a little bit, some having some are just as bad as they’ve ever been – I want to talk about that, but there’s changes in the law. And when I got that opinion, I thought, man, that’s that can apply to any products, liability case, not just auto defects. And so the second book. Also has sort of a, how- to trial strategy, what my thought process is when I, when I try these types of cases. And then some other examples, like we’ve got the VW emissions scandal, you know, the general motors, ignition scandal. There’s very idea that Takata airbags, there’s been a lot happening in the last 10, 12 years. So was an update, but also sort of more about strategy as opposed to just how to identify the case.

Chris Dreyer

So would you say, you know, it’s like the Pareto principle, the 80 20, is it like kind of end-to-end what to look for the checklist and then like the strategies?

Brian Chase

In a nutshell, that’s exactly what it is. So I still let people know what to look for, but the strategy piece, you know, people will bring me in to try a case with them. Uh, you know, oftentimes, and I’ll start talking about my strategy there and the initial thought sometimes there’s, “well, we can’t do that.” And I go, “yes, we can.” And you know, I, I’ve got a published opinion proving we can do it. And it just simplifies the cases so much. And a lot of people still don’t know that. So I really wanted to get the word out. That, you know, these are easier cases to try now than they were in the past, even though they’re still, you know, very expensive and very difficult. I wanted people to know how I was thinking about it. Cause there’s not a lot of people that do this kind of work, at least at the level or the volume that I do.

Chris Dreyer

You have a tremendous amount of awards and accomplishments and you know, you’re the author of the book and, you know, it takes dedication, you know. This compounding just over and over relentless pursuit to continuously improve. And I see that in a business and I see it in your expertise. So if I had asked you, you know, what are some favorite books or mentors that come to mind, uh, in regards to your growth?

Brian Chase

There’s a few different categories. One is I’m inspired by, you know, um, my mentors from afar. People I didn’t necessarily know some of them might do, but you know, great trial lawyers from around the country. And you know, and some of them are just, many of them are deceased now, but, um, there’s biography on them and there’s, you know, biography on Melvin Belli. I love that book. Uh, you know, he was, you know, the king of torts back in the old days. Um, there’s a gentleman by the name of Ron Motley, he is since deceased. Uh, and he started the tobacco litigation and it’s because he learned a lot about lungs and cancer from his asbestos litigation. So it talks about how he started his law firm. So autobiographies from these great lawyers really inspire me and motivate me. And so when you find your back against the law, you can think, well, you know, so today and so those types of books I love. I’m a businessman and an entrepreneur too. So I like to read business management books just to, you know, learn about that. Cause that’s not really my background. I’m trained as a lawyer. I don’t have an MBA and I didn’t take a lot of business camp classes on management. So those types of books and Napoleon Hill, I mean, I love Napoleon Hill books, Zig Ziglar books, those kind of, you know, you can call them positive thinking books or whatever you want to call them. So those are the kinds of the three things, you know, I read about my idols and the biographies. Read about successful business people. And then, you know, the, uh, the positive thinking books for lack of a better word, really inspire me and motivate me.

Chris Dreyer

I haven’t read any Zig’s books, but I just started reading Jim Rohn and I read his 12 Pillars Of Success book. Oh, I was just blown away by that book. There’s only so much time in a day. And we had to utilize that to the, to the best of our abilities. You know, what’s, what’s your high value activities that you’re kind of leaning on today? What, what, what encompasses those high value activities?

Brian Chase

Um, yeah, so I, and I really stumbled onto this by accident, and it’s turned out to be, I should probably write a book on this. You know, most lawyers, uh, that, that is such a great question. Chris, most attorneys have their own caseload and that’s what they do. So normally in a law firm, I’d have my case as a partner would have their cases, other lawyers would have their cases. But if I’m doing the day-to-day work on an individual case, you know, that’s not the best use of my time. And the way it works now in my firm, and again, it was inadvertent how we ended up here, but it’s turned out to be great, so I can maximize my time. I don’t have. You know, an individual caseload, I’ve got associates and partners that have the case load and they do the day-to-day work because the day-to-day work is not the best use of my time, so I can be out, um, speaking publicly, uh, educating lawyers on the kinds of cases that I look for, that they can look for to help them help me grow our businesses. I traveled around the country and do things like that. Uh, I’ve been on various political organizations, you know, past president of the consumer attorneys of California. Those things getting me out there in public to generate business and also give back to the community is the best use of my time. Now what I do, uh, It’s not that I don’t work on any cases. I meet with every lawyer in the office every week. And we go through, we call them a litigation review, and we go through their cases. And, and we’ll come up with a to-do list. And, you know, what did you get done last week? What we said we should get done. And, and going forward, let’s get this done. Let’s get that done. So I’m managing the cases, but that has been the office one day a week on that. That gives me four days a week to be out and about, you know, growing the firm and make sure that we’re around another 20 years. Um, and, and it kind of stumbled into doing it that way, but you know, most lawyers work on their own cases and I don’t, and then it has allowed me to, to grow the practice, frankly.

Chris Dreyer

That’s just brilliant, right. So you’ve got your meeting cadence for your, you’re doing the bird’s eye view. And, you know, there are other attorneys that can understand a case or, or read the definition, but you’re, you can view things in a different light. It’s like a, a cohesive picture that comes with years of experience. So that I, I, that is an amazing use of your time. Cause you can bend, you know, help all of the attorneys under you. Okay. Stepping away from cases has allowed Brian to pursue other activities that help us from achieve growth. And while a lot of you might be wishing you could do the same, the truth is not all of us have the resources to do so. So I wanted to find out what tips Brian has for law firms based on his experiences, starting a practice.

Brian Chase

Yeah. Well, I mean a lot, a lot of them and, and, um, You know, and still experience pitfalls, fortunately, you know, non-catastrophic but yeah, as I’m growing the practice, um, you know, some of the things that we did wrong early on would be, you know, hiring, hiring staff. And if it wasn’t working out and kind of got this from Jack Welch’s his book, although I, I figured it out before I read the book. Um, but his book, Winning, talks about having superstar employees. And if you don’t have superstars, you know, you don’t have a bunch of A’s or B’s that can become A’s. Um, your business will not flourish to the extent it could. And, oftentimes, not always, you’re not necessarily an oftentimes never going to make a C and A. And what my partner I did early on, you know, 25 years ago, and you know, 15 years ago, we would hire people and they were good, hard working folks, you know? And you just knew they, they didn’t have the talent. They weren’t bad. They were a solid C, maybe a C plus, but they were never going to be an A, so we would always try to help people grow and keep, sometimes keep people around for five years and then finally realize: you know, this isn’t working. And so, you know, it sounds kind of cold, but if you’re going to run a business, you need to have superstars on your team. And, um, and so what we have learned is, and I’m going to make this a positive, not a negative in a minute, is what, what I’ve learned is: you know, hire people, but if they’re not cutting it, you know, get rid of them sooner rather than later, you know, you’re going to know within a few months or six months, whether that C is going to be an, A, it doesn’t take five years. And so we wasted a lot of time trying to help people grow into something that they were never going to grow into. Um, and so that was bad for my business. Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m harsh on these people that we ended up firing. Cause I can tell you one kid, I had to fire him. This is 20 years ago and it was terrible. You know, it bothered me, it hurt me, but the kids just wasn’t cutting. He was begging for his job and I felt really bad about it. Well, about five years later, I was at the airport and he bumps into me and he goes, “Hey, Brian, how you doing?” And I’m like, “Rick, what’s going on?” You know, what’s going on with you? And he goes, “I want to thank you for firing me five years ago. I wasn’t cut out to be a paralegal in your law firm. I now have my own business. I’m an entrepreneur” and he was flourishing. So, you know, I’m getting goosebumps right now telling this story. So, you know, it sounds harsh. Can’t make a C an A – fire them. But, we all are an A at something. You know, you’re an A at what you do, I’m an A at what I do. If I had to do something that I’m telling somebody who is a C at whatever, they’re an A at, I’m probably a C at. So, you know, it’s not as cruel as it sounds. If you’re gonna run your business, you need A’s. And those people that aren’t A’s, they need to find out what they are an A at so they can flourish at whatever, you know, the universe has in store for them.

Chris Dreyer

There’s so many nuggets in there, like you said, you’re like, everyone’s an A, at something, they have a passion about something. You wouldn’t take, you know, a point guard and put them in the center position or a catcher in center field. But, uh, yeah, so, and, and then they may be, you know, an A in one role and you move them to a manager position, I think we’ve all been in this, where you got your doers and your delegators, and those are challenges there too.

Brian Chase

Yeah. And, and that has happened. We’ve had people in the firm that were, that appeared to be C’s and then shifting them around to some other position and found out, you know what, they’re an A here, I didn’t even see that happening. So, you know, it’s just, I think if you run any business, you just have to… that Jack Welch book is really good on this topic. Just, um, you got to make sure you have your superstars.

Chris Dreyer

And let’s, let’s talk about, you know, daily rituals, you know, are there other things that you do that kind of gets you in the mindset? Because I mean, you’re hungry. I can see, I can hear it from you. You’re still hungry. You’re you’re still in to dominate. Like, what are some of those that keep you?

Brian Chase

Yeah, so, um, you know, what I try to do is I like to get up early. Um, I mean, I love to sleep, but I, you know, when I’m up early and it’s dark, um, it’s a nice quiet time. So, um, you know, I will read. Uh, you know, some of those books and talking about, even if it’s a few pages or a chapter or something I’ll read that will motivate me or inspire me, inspire me for the day. So I like to do that. Um, and then I’ll do emails and work for an hour or so after I’ve done that to get motivated. And then I try to get to the, uh, you know, the gym. And, uh, you know, stay in shape and it’s just, if I work out, I have a better mental attitude. So really my mornings are reading something motivational to have me go have a really kick ass day. Get a little bit of work done and then go to the gym workout and then, uh, get into the office.

Chris Dreyer

Awesome. Awesome. So, you know, one, one final question here: what questions or stories did we not talk about that you think would be important for our audience?

Brian Chase

Oh, wow. That’s a great question. Um, and, I really think it’s, it sounds simplistic, but I know that there, you know, there are people that are dreamers and there are doers and, you know, if you just sit around dreaming about it, whatever it is in any kind of business, you know, you’re not going to get it done. And, and what I’m going to say is, is kind of common sense. And in every book written, but if anybody has something that they are very passionate about doing whatever it is, don’t sit around and dream about it. Say tomorrow, I’m going to take this action because tomorrow becomes a year and then, you know, your life’s over. So just like everybody tells you, if you want to do something you’re passionate about it, have, you know, have a daily goal and what you’re going to accomplish that day, you know. Have a weekly goal, a monthly goal, a six month goal and, and just, and, and, and make sure you do those, those action items, kind of Tony Robins talks about that, right? You know, on, on having an action item or whatever. It’s so. Easy to say, but so many people don’t do it. There are so many people with dreams and hopes and desires and a belief they’re going to accomplish something, but they’re taking no action on a daily basis to make sure, um, that they accomplish what it is they want to accomplish. And you know, even now I’ve been doing this almost 30 years. I’ve got, I’ve got, you know, 10 and 15 year goals, way down the road. You know, I’m going to be an old guy and I’m still planning for things that far out, let alone things I’m going to work on today. So just. Whatever you’re passionate about. See what it looks like on paper and then take action daily to make it happen. I think it’s just that simple. It’s that hard and that simple.

Chris Dreyer

What an incredible journey for maxing out credit cards to pay his employees, to taking on the auto industry. Brian’s story is rags to riches and David versus Goliath all in one. And if you’re looking to start your own practice, jump into a niche of legal expertise, or you want to start taking on bigger cases. There’s something to be learned from Brian. You’ve been listening to The Rankings Podcast. I’m Chris Dreyer, a huge thank you to today’s guest Brian Chase for joining us. You can find all of the links from today’s conversation in the show notes. And we want to hear from you? What were some of the lessons that you learned from those early days of starting your own practice? Drop us a review and share your thoughts. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.

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