20. Brian Panish, Panish Shea & Boyle Developing Excellence Through Coaching and Grit

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Brian Panish is partner at Panish Shea & Boyle and one of the countrys top trial attorneys. Brians victories in the courtroom include a $4.9 billion product liability verdict as well as over 100 other verdicts and settlements worth more than $10 million each.

In this episode of The Rankings Podcast, Brian tells us why running a law firm isnt for the faint of heart and how his younger days as an athlete equipped him with the skills he needed to become a great trial attorney. Brian also shares why, as a law firm owner, you cant afford to tread water with your business and how you can boost your B and C players.

Transcript

Brian Panish

If you’re in this business for the money, you’re never going to make it. I mean, it takes a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of commitment.

Chris Dreyer

If you’re looking for an example of what hard work and determination can achieve for you and your law firm, you’d be hard pressed to find a better case study than my guest today.

Brian Panish

But you have to have a special DNA to want to try these cases, to expose yourself and to, to lose, to be rejected. You put everything you have out there, you’re, you’re on the line, your credibility, and the people will reject it. And that’s a tough feeling and you have to be ready to get back and do it.

Chris Dreyer

You’re listening to The Rankings Podcast, the show where top marketers and elite personal injury attorneys share their stories about getting to the top and what keeps them there. My guest today is Brian Panish, partner, Panish Shea and Boyle. Brian is one of the country’s top trial attorneys boasting an incredible record of victories, including a $4.9 billion product liability win, and over $110+ million settlements and verdicts. And on top of his success as an attorney, he has helped to build one of the most reputable law firms in the country growing from four lawyers to nearly 40 in just 15 years. 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. SEO is all about the first page and that’s also where we like to start our show. Here’s Brian Panish partner. Panish Shea and Boyle.

Brian Panish

My first thing was I thought I was going to be in the NFL. And luckily my father was a plaintiff personal injury attorney, he tried 500 jury trials who loved what he did. And he would never tell me you’re never going to make it – he would say, well, if you don’t make it just in case, what’s your backup plan? And I, so I don’t know, maybe I’ll be in insurance? He goes, no, you need to get a profession. He says you need to get a profession, you could do what you want to do. And he says, just get good grades, so just in case, if you want to go to law school, maybe I can help you out. And so I didn’t a make it, although I enjoyed football, had agreed at college time, and then I was coaching high school football, but I couldn’t get away from it teaching and was headed to college to coach and decided maybe I should try law school. So that’s how it started. And so I think from my family is where it first started ironically, all my brothers are lawyers. Um, my wife’s a lawyer and one of my daughters is lawyer right now and another one’s in law school. So it kind of runs in the family.

Chris Dreyer

That’s incredible. And you know, so I have a little background in sports and I saw that you had that scholarship to Fresno. And, yeah, that’s, that’s, I’m sure at the time you’re thinking, you know, sports, sports, sports, and then when you started your early career as an attorney, did you know that this was just something that, that was special, that you really enjoyed and were passionate about?

Brian Panish

I knew before I became an attorney. I think when I was growing up and near my father and his friends, they would come over and they would talk about war stories to trials and what would happen in the competition. And in sports, one thing, you know, there’s, there’s a winner and there, so loser and the same thing. And there’s only three areas of life. And Edward Bennett Williams wrote in his book, The Man To See, he lived his life in contest living. And in life, there are three areas in which there’s a winner and loser. You know, everyone gets a trophy, now everybody gets a certificate of participation. Everyone gets a pat on the back. But in sports, they’re trying to get rid of ties. Occasionally they are, but there’s a winner and losers. Politics, there’s no tie you win or you lose. And courtroom law. And those are the three areas of life that still have that competition. I love the competition. And most importantly, I love the clients and doing a good thing for my clients is what causes me to continue to work hard and do what’s necessary. Cause it’s a hard job to go try case on the behalf of an injured person who has no other champion, but you.

Chris Dreyer

What you just said makes me think of that quote, second place is the first loser and, you know, that’s, that’s the way it is. And, and your… how competitive you were in sports, I’m sure that transitioned right into the courtroom: the preparation, all the work that you had to do to prepare for a case.

Brian Panish

Well I think it’s practice. You know one really loved practice, but you play how you practice. And if you didn’t really have a good week of practice, you weren’t really going to do that well in the game and I’ve saw it firsthand. And this goes all the way back from being a kid. I had a great foundation high school, I went to a great high school. Was very sports oriented, the school, very competitive, winning, working, accountability, and discipline. Those are the two words, discipline and accountability. Or the two words throughout football and other sports, I put all three sports, football, basketball, baseball, and high school, only football college. But those attributes that you learn in football and you learn about a team and how important it is to work as a team and in a, in a law firm it’s like that. And then the way trials are today, you’re seeing more and more trials being tried by teams of lawyers. And you have to get along. I’ve done a lot of trials with the lawyers. And you need to work as a team and there’s no I in team.

Chris Dreyer

I couldn’t agree more. So you talk about a team let’s, let’s jump to 2005 where you launched Panish Shea and Boyle. What were the early days of your firm, like, you know, forming that team, those like-minded like-minded individuals?

Brian Panish

Well, when we started the firm, there were four lawyers. We hadn’t moved in, we had boxes all over the place, our space hadn’t been built out. And immediately three of us were in trial. And I was in a trial in Burbank, which is outside of Los Angeles, I get the verdict, I have to go on a plane, fly to San Francisco and start another trial myself and my partner, Kevin Boyle, we’re trying a wrongful death case against the city and County of San Francisco. We got a landmark verdict. So we kinda, you know, started off with a little energized boosts of a couple of big verdicts. And from there we’ve gone to expand and bringing more lawyers and more members of the team to the, where we, I think we have 37 lawyers today.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. That’s incredible. So those, you know, those landmark type cases really helped you create a lot of momentum, right from the very beginning. Let’s talk about some of the mistakes, maybe that you encounter with all that growth. Were there any, any pitfalls or mistakes that you learned from, for accelerating your growth very quickly?

Brian Panish

Well, I think whether you’re big or small, the most important thing for a plaintiff firm is case selection. And if you’re taking cases, because you need more cases because you have a lot of people, that’s not really a good recipe. So you’ve got to really be careful on case selection. And then, you know, most of the lawyers that have come to the firm are still there and they, they have to be committed. They have to have that passion for what they do. They have to believe in what they’re doing. They’re not in it for the money. Uh, even though they all make, you know, they can make very good money. But if you’re in this business for the money, you’re never going to make it. I mean, it takes a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of commitment. And that’s what we’re looking for in the lawyer. So as we grew, where changes had to be made, but I think, you know, every firm has that. If you stay the same, you know, if you, if you stay the same, you’re going back, unless you’re moving forward, you’re not going to advance. And that’s what, you know, a good friend of mine, John Morgan, says grow or die. I don’t a hundred percent agree with that part. I think there’s a good bit in that saying, that wisdom.

Chris Dreyer

I couldn’t agree more because if you’re, if you’re just kind of treading water, then you’re not doing the, you know, the building, your brand equity that will translate, you know, turn into clients in the future.

Brian Panish

If you’re staying the same, other people are going to pass you.

Chris Dreyer

Brian really values his team and understands how critical they are to his firm’s success. I asked him how he goes about identifying new hires with the passion he requires for his firm. And I wanted to find out how he handle C and B players.

Brian Panish

Well, I mean, obviously passion, belief, work ethic and grit. And grit is something that I’ve learned about in the last couple of years. And I’ve studied it and I read about a person that had studied it and written about it. There’s a great book called Grit. I actually bought that book and gave it to all the attorneys with a little inscription for the holidays this year. And it has some great examples. And what is the importance of grit? I mean, it’s not, the studies have shown it’s not the smartest person, it’s not the best looking, it’s not the most athletic. What his studies have shown is the people that have the grit that persevere day to day, minute to minute, hour to hour, week to week, and continue to do that consistently, that are going to be successful. And then they may not be the smartest person, or they may not have to be the best looking, but they’re going to out-work you, and they’re going to out-hustle you and they’re going to be successful. And when they get knocked down, they’re not going to feel sorry for themselves. They’re going to get back up and they’re going to keep fighting and they’re going to have grit. And I think grit is that intangible characteristic that is critical in all jobs and so particularly for a plaintiff lawyer, because you’re going to go have your ups and downs. And as my one of my first mentor Lee Lipscomb told me, being in trials, like a rollercoaster. There’s no better feeling than driving home from court after having a great day in court. But there’s no worse feeling than going home after having a bad day. And you have to try to stay in the middle. And try to keep control your emotions to get through the whole trial. And I think that’s critical.

Chris Dreyer

You identify someone that doesn’t have that grit, that core value, that belief that you share and that you’re looking for for your team. You know, one of the things that when I talked to other business owners, they have a problem with, they really, struggle with, someone’s not, someone’s a C or B player and they just keep letting them coast keep letting them coast. And they become ingrained in the business. How do you take action to have that candid conversation and, and to, to build the right team when one of those has slipped through?

Brian Panish

Well, I mean, there’s only, you know, that’s easier said than done, obviously. But you got to coach them, you got to call them in. You got to work with them. You got to oversee them. You got to take baby steps and hopefully you can mold them where they need to be. Some people they can, you have to make adjustments and you know, it’s not like the NFL where you’re here today, gone tomorrow. But that mentality I think is hard to have in a law firm. And you can’t just start cutting everyone. Cause they, you know, they fumbled the ball or they didn’t make the right move on a certain case. You have to give them opportunity and you have to train them. And you know, a lot of lawyers, they don’t get adequate training and a lot of it is not their fault because they just don’t know any better. Some people are not motivated themselves to go out and seek out ways to make themselves better. But you want people that want to be better than no every day they have to get better. And, you know, Michael Jordan, he was the most difficult teammate because he was on everybody else because he wanted greatness and he expected more from everyone and he pushed them and that’s how he got to where he was, because he was so competitive and he never gave up. And he pushed all his teammates to grit, to greatness.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, the it’s the, you’re the average of the people that you hang out with the most, the, the other saying I’ve heard a saying something along the lines of mediocre individuals don’t like the, the people that are playing at this high level and the high level achievers, don’t like hanging out with the mediocre individuals because you know, we’re all on this different path. And I, I totally agree about the coaching aspect too. I’ve heard many many a coaches, whether it’s a great NCAA basketball coach, Mike Shashefski or a great NFL coach talk about it’s a lot of times when they’re not succeeding, it’s a failure of, of the coach for not training and developing their people.

Brian Panish

And it’s also the culture and you as the leader, you create the culture. And if you look at Duke basketball and you look at Clemson football, you look at Alabama under Nick Saban. He’s created that culture that the players buy into and the workers buy into, and they carry that with them. And in a law firm, you need to create a culture of excellence, of training, of grit and all of that. And the leaders of the firm have to instill that in the employees and they have to buy in, or you’re not going to be successful.

Chris Dreyer

I love Brian’s leadership mentality and how, like a great coach, he takes ownership of the performance and the aptitude of his staff. And much in the same way a coach will give a rousing pre-game pep-talk I asked Brian, what inspiring words of advice he has for other law firm owners looking to grow their practices?

Brian Panish

Well, one thing my dad told me, I used to think I was pretty good at cross examination. I would brag to him, I did this and he’d say to me, hey man, you don’t know anything about cross examination. Go take a thousand depositions and then you might know something. So I think it’s kinda like golf and all of the things, muscle memory repetition you need to get in there and do it. When I was a young lawyer, I worked at an insurance defense firm and they gave me the opportunity to try cases, a young lawyer. Win or lose, I had a great time. Now, eventually I came to a point where I was winning, you know, obviously the case is going to trial. I had an advantage. I was successful and there was really no, I would say, fun. You know, that I go home, I win, but the other person they’re getting money, but I, so I didn’t really like that. So I changed, but eventually. You have to be passionate about it. You have to go to these seminars, you have to go watch these other lawyers try cases. You have to be a sponge, soaking it all up, but you still have to be yourself. You can’t be Mark lInear. You, you can’t be F. Lee Bailey, you have to be yourself, but incorporate in your inner being some of these techniques that you’ve learned from these other lawyers. And look many, many of these plaintiff lawyers, they didn’t create this stuff, somebody else is the one, you know, Mo Levine is a lawyer that I’ve read everything about. I use some of his arguments. He was a lawyer, you know, 60 years ago. And there are many great trial lawyers out there and each has their own unique style. And I think if you can draw a little bit from all of them, that’s going to help you, but it takes hard work. It’s I call it being in trial, like cramming for finals everyday. I don’t have the luxury to prepare for trial five months before it occurs. And many lawyers don’t and you have to be able to keep that even balance and do other things when you’re in trial. Be able to still work out, get sleep, eat good, because it’s a stressful thing. But if you really enjoy it and I enjoy it, I don’t, I feel happier and more energized when I’m in trial with less sleep and more stress than if I’m sitting at home on a stay-at-home order from the governor.

Chris Dreyer

There are so many nuggets there from Mo Levine to, to, you know, just immersing yourself in the world that you want to be better at and just consuming knowledge from conferences and, and other, your peers. Kind of what you’re saying, reminds me of what I tell my people, I say, you know, my job is like a video game that pays me. I’m an SEO nerd. It’s not like a job. It’s something that I love doing. And it’s a passion. So you mentioned a few books, you mentioned grit. You mentioned Mo Levine. What, what are a few of your other favorite business books that you like to reference?

Brian Panish

Never Eat Alone, don’t split the difference. Never Eat Alone is great, talking… Whenever you’re, if you’re a lawyer, personal injury, whatever business you’re in sales, because you’re kind of in sales as a personal injury lawyer, but you should be, every lunch, every meal, you should be inviting somebody out there and working on pitching them. And you know, my boss Lee Lipscomb, who is a great mentor of mine would say to me, you know, Brian, he’s from Oklahoma, he’d say, Brian, You know, I can go up and down Witlshire Boulevard, which is a big street in LA, where lot of law firms were at the time, this was in the eighties and he says, I could drive up down Wiltshire Boulevard, find a million travelers, Brian. But you find me that a lawyer that can bring in the cases, he can sit in the office, put his boots up on his desk, smoke cigars and talk on the phone all day long. And really what I’ve learned is, you know, getting the business is the most important thing now and whether it be, and the way that things change with the internet and SEO, which you’re familiar with, whether it be TV ads, whether it be one-on-one relationships and it’s all about relationships and building those relationships and continuing to maintain those relationships, they’re going to help you have that competitive edge and the service that you provide. And my business is primarily driven by referral lawyers that refer cases to us. It’s not on TV ads or, you know, SEO was sure, maybe you can make us better, hopefully. We were not as good as we could be probably on that. But a large majority of cases come from other lawyers. So many times we’re helping other lawyers and we’re not going to take their case. It’s not one that we want, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to them, or we can help them. In any way, whether it be with experts, trial techniques, uh, settlement, whatever we can. And it’s about building the relationship with our network of lawyers that we co-counsel with many times, young lawyers have come to us, we’ve tried a case with them, they’ve been part of it. And then they’ve gone on to try in their own cases and, you know, they don’t refer me anymore, but that’s okay. They’re doing a great job for their clients and they’re, they’re loving what they’re doing. So it’s about relationships. It’s about getting out there. Don’t Eat Alone, having that grit don’t split the difference. Uh, don’t sweat while stuff, you know, move my cheese, all that.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. And, and I, I think the don’t split the difference. I think that’s a Chris Voss. Yeah. That’s, that’s a great book too. One of the things you said that, you know, when you don’t have a brand, you don’t have that sphere of influence. You’ve got to look at direct response marketing. You’ve got to look at Pay per click and getting your name out there with direct response.

Brian Panish

And it works. I have Lawyers that come to me that, wherever they get these cases, and, and I’m like, wow, that’s great. I mean, they figured out a way they’re marketing and they’re able to do that. They’re out there, you just have to have a niche, you know, a niche practice. You see people that are very successful in certain parts of the country in different areas of practice. Develop your own niche is critical.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, it allows you to immediately stand out. You’re not the Jack of all trades. People can associate you with that niche. You know, when I think it niches too, I think of Brian Chase and, and product recall, immediately comes to mind, not just a personal injury attorney and, and there. And I, I think that you’ve really developed an expertise around being just a tremendous trial attorney. When I think of trial attorneys, I think of Brian Panish and it’s, it’s come from your, your successes and doing it over time and building it out.

Brian Panish

It also comes from having a great team. Believe me, I didn’t win all those cases by myself. There are a lot of lawyers that have helped me through my career. Have tried cases with me, have prepared cases, have brought cases, have been co-counsel, who I’ve learned from, and you got to learn from everyone. And everyone has something that you can take away from them. And I hear this when you go to a seminar, if you can get one good thing, that it’s been worth your while.

Chris Dreyer

I completely agree. And I think I’ve got, I’ve got several nuggets in our conversation. I’m going to go look at the book Grit is probably the first thing I’m going to do. Um, you know, today your role has changed your, your role, you have a very successful practice. Today what are your high value activities? What are the actions that you do that, that provide the most value for the firm?

Brian Panish

Well, number one is still trying cases. Number two would be mentoring other younger lawyers and helping them and their career develop. And I think the only way that the firm and I want my firm to still be there to be there is that it’s not just me. There are other lawyers and we have many other lawyers in the firm that are successful trying cases. And I think to instill in them that passion, that desire to want to try a case and to put value in. Uh, rewarding lawyers that do try cases. Some lawyers, they don’t want to try cases. That’s okay. And you have to love it. You know, you should tell when I was coaching high school football, sometimes some parents would kind of come up and talk about their kid. Maybe not playing so much. And you’d always say, well, you know what? There are a lot of other sports and football is not for everyone. And maybe your son would be better on the tennis team or, or basketball. And the same thing with trial. There are other types of law that are rewarding, that you can engage in that are helpful worthwhile. And that doesn’t have anything to do with going to court. And some people can do that, but you have to have a special DNA to want to try these cases, to expose yourself and to, to lose, to be rejected. You put everything you have out there. You’re, you’re on the line, your credibility, and the people reject it. And that’s a tough feeling and you have to be ready to get back and to do it. So mentoring, trying cases, developing business and systems. You know, I’ve been my, one of my mentors, John Morgan is very, has a huge firm. So he has a lot of systems in place that I think we have developed a lot of systems, new software Litify software program, that helps us to manage and keep track of what’s going on.

Chris Dreyer

Those are excellent pieces of advice. I think all of them are just tremendously valuable and, and, you know, having the systems and processes is the scale to pass on your knowledge to other attorneys to develop their skillset and the rising tide lifts all boats, Brian, one, one final question here. Do you have any advice for your fellow lawyers trying to grow a large successful practice? I know we talked about a bunch, but what would be one piece of advice you would give them?

Brian Panish

Don’t grow too fast. I think you gotta grow at your speed. You know, obviously you want to push the boundaries, but you know, in your law firm you got financial consideration. So don’t lose track of the finances. A lot of lawyers are not great businessmen. So I would say my most important point would be pay attention to the business of law. And don’t lose sight of that when you’re trying to grow your firm.

Chris Dreyer

Excellent piece of advice, guys, we’ve been talking to elite personal injury attorney, Brian Panish co-founder of Panish Shea and Boyle. Brian, where can people go to learn more?

Brian Panish

https://www.psblaw.com/ uh, @panish31 on Twitter. And, uh, hopefully you guys will all check in and has been a pleasure to be here today, Chris, and thanks for having me.

Chris Dreyer

I think Brian’s advice about growing at your own pace is excellent. Ensuring as you grow, you learn and you don’t stretch yourself too thin by axpanding too fast. I’d like to think Brian Panish from Panis Shea and Boyle for sharing his story with us. And I hope you gained some valuable insights from the conversation. You’ve been listening to The Rankings Podcast. I’m Chris Dreyer. If you liked this episode or have an idea for a future guest, whose story you’d like to hear, leave me a review and let me know. I’ll catch you next week with another inspiring story and some SEO tips and tricks all with page one in mind.

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