151. Eric Gang, Veterans Disability Lawyer – Dominate Your Niche: How Serving Builds Trust and Referrals

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Eric Gang (@veteransdisabilityinfo), founding partner at Veteran’s Disability Lawyer (@veteransdisabilityinfo) is a steward for those who have sacrificed for our country. His approach to client care is multifaceted from financial education to physical care. By niching down to handle veterans affairs exclusively, he has come to understand the needs of his clients. As a result, he has grown his firm to eight figures, has won multiple awards, and has become the go-to guy for veterans seeking restitution in the process. His deep understanding of the client’s pain points have led him to write the best-selling book Betrayal of Valor to help shed light on veterans’ issues and spark positive change. Eric explains how niching down can accelerate your business and how writing a book helps make you the authority figure in your field.

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What’s in This Episode:

  • Who is Eric Gang?
  • How has niching down expanded Eric’s practice?
  • How can an attorney be the go-to person for one type of case?
  • How can an attorney come to deeply understand the pain points of their clients?

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

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Transcript

Eric Gang:

It’s a difference between saying you care and trying to do the things on the surface because it helps business, versus actually really caring at the end of the day when nobody’s looking.

Chris Dreyer:

You may have hundreds or thousands of clients, but your client only has one attorney. Treat each one with a high level of individualized care.

Eric Gang:

If you subscribe to the theory that if you do the right thing and you do it well and you have integrity, then in the long run that’s a business model that will be successful.

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. Bedside manner is no longer reserved for doctors. Clients are looking for an attorney who can see their struggle, empathize with them, and fight like hell for restitution. A champion for veterans, Eric Gang, founding partner at Veterans Disability Lawyer is a steward for those who have sacrificed for our country. His eight figure firm ensures that they get the care and financial compensation they deserve while feeling heard in the process. To that end, he also wrote the best selling book, Betrayal of Valor to help shed light on veterans issues and spark positive change.
His mission is far-reaching. Eric has crafted an entire support network to surround his clients to help them make the best choices physically, mentally, and financially. We discuss the merits of diving deep into a specific niche from reducing waste to increasing referral volume and how writing a book can help establish you and your practice as thought leaders in this space, as well as pitfalls to avoid. 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. Here’s Eric Gang, founding partner at Veterans Disability Lawyer who wanted to be a lawyer since high school.

Eric Gang:

I was at a boarding school during my high school years and it provided many opportunities to get into trouble. So as a juvenile, I get in all kinds of practical jokes that often resulted in the police being called and ended up having a lawyer and he took care of all the problems. And at that point I realized that the law can be a noble profession if practiced by people of integrity. And that was probably the watershed moment when I decided to pursue a legal career. I did come from a family of self-employed professionals. So it was an easy choice because it wasn’t like I was the first person to seek licensure in one of the traditional professions in my family, but that was probably the moment that made the light bulb go on in my mind and opened my consideration to legal profession as a career. And I went out on my own probably year after law school, something like that.

Chris Dreyer:

So I guess you just had this really good experience with the attorney. Did he embody kind of what you were thinking, what an attorney really could be like in terms of just being professional? So what was it that really just stood out?

Eric Gang:

Yeah, it’s a good question and I think it segues into something that I think is becoming a more talked about topic in legal circles and that is how a lawyer conducts himself on a personal level with clients and with others. And it’s not just the technical legal skills. I think there’s been a number of studies that have been done surveying clients and then surveys of lawyers in terms of what are the top 10 characteristics or skills that a lawyer should have. And lawyers list all these hard technical skills. Clients might list one or two hard skills and they’re down on the bottom of the list. The skills they value most are, do they care about me? Do they project concern about my rights? Do they communicate with me? Those softer skills, and it is so important. I think some studies I’ve seen suggest that academic success and law school and LSAT scores might have at best a slight to maybe even negative correlation with ultimate success as a lawyer.
It’s these other more softer skills that seem to predominate and be a better predictor of success. So this particular lawyer sort of embodied those characteristics that is he says, “Look, basically let me take care of this. You can sleep at night. I’ve got you, I’ll take care of it.” And he exuded this sense that I could trust him, that he would take care of things and he ultimately did. He ultimately did. And I think whether or not we’re in a business to consumer area of practice or whether in we’re in a business to business, we’re still dealing with another human being as a client and how well we build trust with that person, at the end of the day, it’s still a private bond between a professional and his client and our awareness of those key areas of trust, rapport building, integrity, those things really do matter.
And this particular attorney embodied those traits and it made me realize that law was noble because of his bearing, his integrity. Those were the characteristics that he most exemplified. And I think in many ways lawyers fall into the smart person trap, which is that they think they’ve been so rewarded over their lives by being smart and getting good grades that they think that’s all they need, but they’re just jerks. Their clients hate them and the clients that best tolerate them. In my profession, there is a practitioner who’s widely known and respected as one of the most venerable practitioners in our field with numerous reported decisions at the highest levels of the appeals courts to his name. I once had a client come to me that used to be a client of that particular lawyer and that client thought the lawyer was horrible, but yet the lawyers in the judiciary thought this guy was great, but he didn’t communicate with the client, dismissed claims without talking to the client first.
Some of this basic stuff, and that’s I think where lawyers are really lacking today and especially lawyers that are super smart and lawyers tend to be high on the IQ, kind of low on the EQ, so sometimes they don’t understand the perceived need of clients. The client needs to win, I need to win, I need to get paid. Let me just cut through the crap and only focus on what really matters to win the money. Now the client needs that, but on the other hand, I think the client also needs to feel… Like if they’re failing anxious about potentially something going wrong in the case when they call that lawyer, they not only want to hear that what’s going on technically speaking, but they want some words of assurance that will calm them down and make them feel like they can go about their day and sleep at night.

Chris Dreyer:

I think that’s a very valuable perspective. So many people talk about the hard skills and the EQ and the emotional intelligence, rapport building, just find that it’s so much more valuable just because of so much access through social media and communications just leveled the playing field. Also, when you’re talking, and we’re going to dive into this, it made me think about that attorney and I’m not sure who it is and we don’t have to refer to that attorney’s name, but it made me think maybe if they were first in and they were the only one, by the nature of being the only one or the few, they were automatically the best.

Eric Gang:

It’s possible. Yeah, it’s true. And the thing is too, at the end of the day with mass marketing available to every lawyer that wants to spend the money to do it, we run the risk of being commoditized. So what is going to distinguish us from somebody else and what’s going to make our firm better? I think the business author Patrick Lencioni in the book, The Advantage talks about the idea at the end of the day, organizational health trumps everything else. I’ve heard some really, really successful lawyers in this profession talk about being asked questions like what is more important: your marketing, your rainmaking ability or your leadership capability? And most of the really successful ones will say leadership because I can always hire a really good marketing person. So it’s interesting,

Chris Dreyer:

People want to follow a leader. They lead by example. And a leader’s job ultimately is to grow your team in quantity and quality or quality first and then quantity, and so that you know can multiply yourself. But I want to circle back to one really important thing you said, which was being different, standing out. Most of our audience is personal injury attorneys, right? There’s a personal injury attorney billboard, every single city you go into, you’re going to see a hundred of them, right? And it’s kind of a little bit got commoditized, there’s a lot of saturation. So when you started your firm, did you go right into the veterans benefits or was this a discovery process for you?

Eric Gang:

I did a little bit of everything. I’ve done a few… Years ago, I’ve done some personal injury work, criminal work, bankruptcy, real estate, even represented some doctors in the sale of medical practices, states… I did everything, lots of drunk driving defense cases. I did. I would say at the end of the day what got me into this field was personal connections with some people that used to be attorneys at the Office of General Counsel in Washington DC. So this was not a decision that was made based upon anything other than I had a very good friend who started referring these cases, and it just ended up taking over everything else. So this was not a conscious decision. It’s not… And the thing is, it’s an area that it’s very, very technical and the personal injury lawyers talk about things like shelf life and things like that.
And our shelf life tends to be very long and there’s no ability to just call up adjusters and settle cases. It just, it’s going to take what it’s going to take. We don’t have any control over it. So sometimes I’m in these mastermind groups and most of them are personal injury lawyers and a case is worth what the injuries are, you know what I mean? It is. And so the idea is to get a very seriously injured person and try to resolve a case quickly and it becomes more profitable because you can churn more of them. And you have some ability to push cases a little bit.
In our field, that’s not possible. And so the approach is just very different to cases. It’s harder to manage because you can’t really say to your associates, “I expect you to settle X number of dollars this month.” And then they’re on the phone trying to make settlement demands and stuff like that. It doesn’t work that way, but it soon evolved. And then at this point in time, we don’t take every case. We don’t run a very high volume operation. It’s really focused around our mission, which is to have a transformative effect in the lives of veterans and to make their experience with every interaction in our firm to be an amazing one. So it’s a broad thing because it extends beyond the end of the case in the sense that we set up a partnership with Merrill Lynch and if we help them get money, we help them get into Merrill Lynch, set up brokerage accounts, preserve their wealth, set up plans to manage their money and things like that because it’s part of our vision and our mission to transform their lives.
And we have a non-profit foundation that works with our firm that I’m executive director of, and we put on events where we have physicians come and speak to try to talk about topics, helping them improve their health, things along those lines. So it’s a broad area and it’s rewarding. It’s rewarding work, I have to say. That’s what keeps us in this and what keeps us going. But in terms of back to your question, you prefaced the question by talking about this idea of saturation and there’s certain segments of it that are niched. I had an attorney guy that I knew that only did bedbug cases, you know what I mean? He’s the bedbug guy. There are advantages to a niche, but I’ll tell you a quick example. End of last year, end of 2021, probably sort of end of the third quarter, into the fourth quarter, the VA, the government stopped paying and held up all the legal fees for close to eight, nine months.
And it almost put people out of business. And the big bar association that we go to in our field, one of the speakers talked about this topic and talked about the idea of diversifying as a hedge against those situations. And so some of the people I know in some of these mastermind groups say, look, start taking personal injury cases as a hedge against something like this happening. I think many of them in our field learned over the last year or so that there is advantage to some diversification as a hedge against something going wrong if that’s the only way you’re getting any revenue.

Chris Dreyer:

Definitely pros and cons to niching, right? You can expand your total addressable market, go after other different areas of laws, insulate yourself to recessions and different things like imagine being the cruise injury attorney when COVID was really hitting. But for all those negatives, there’s a lot of positives and Tony Robbins talks about, “Don’t fall in love with your product or service. Fall in love with helping your client.” And so you said, “Look, hey, I’m not going to go after these other areas of the law, but I’m going to go deeper. I’m going to provide more value. I’m going to go to Merrill Lynch and do this because that’s what’s next and I’m helping them.”

Eric Gang:

Right.

Chris Dreyer:

Have you had the shiny object syndrome of oh maybe I should go over here. Is that a constant battle because it is for me, and when did it really click that, hey, I’m just going to go deep and stay focused?

Eric Gang:

There have been various times when changes in the law have happened in our field where a certain degree of nervousness sets in and you start thinking maybe I need to hedge and get other things going. The idea that there’s some other great thing that I should be going after has never really been in and of itself a factor. I think it’s more driven by fear. If something goes wrong in the current area, should I have some other things going on? In this particular field, it’s very complex, okay, especially those of us that practice the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. It’s heavy duty appellate work at the US Court of Appeals and it’s not something you fool around with.
And I realized early on that to really be good at this, it’s not something to do as a hobby or to dabble in. So it’s easier to focus and get good at one area than it is to try to be good at multiple areas. Now I know bigger firms solve that problem by having different departments in their firm, but for me, when you build systems and you develop structures in your office, it’s easier to just focus on building one.

Chris Dreyer:

So since you’re focusing on this one area, the law, you eliminate waste and everything’s not a blank canvas and you have some repeatable processes that lend itself to more profitability and less errors, things like that. Then I was also thinking, and I know we just briefly chatted even before we got started about marketing, you can maximize your marketing spend because you have a demographic. You can really target that individually more precise as opposed to a Morgan and Morgan who has to go really broad with TV and distribution has to hit everyone.

Eric Gang:

Right. Yeah, exactly. If you’re a matrimonial lawyer, every married person is potentially a client, potentially. And everybody who walks on a sidewalk, rides in a motor vehicle could be a potential personal injury client at some point, right? Everybody that goes to a doctor could be a potential medical malpractice client. The cost to mass market to the general population is just greater. But the ability to obviously take on a much larger number of cases is obviously there with that approach as well. There’s a finite number of people that would be my clients, you know what I mean? It’s about a certain number and it’s going to be pretty much that way unless something drastic changes with the US government’s requirements for the size of military they want to continue to hold. We have pretty much a certain amount of people that are going to be leaving the military every year and those get replaced, although the DOD is struggling this year to get their recruit numbers that they need. There are some limitations to a niche. It’s a finite number of people.

Chris Dreyer:

One thing I want to get your take on though is because you’re specialized, you are a specialist, you win cases that others don’t even want to take and you really focus on quality and going deep and getting value and you have this expertise to do the Court of Appeals, and I’m not an attorney, but I understand what you’re referring to. It lends itself to referrals. You’re the guy that people think of. You’re top of mind. So how does that impact, I would imagine too, some of your clients? They’re veterans, so they have other friends that are veterans. That lends itself to referrals and you’ve got your peers.

Eric Gang:

Yes, it does lend itself better. For instance, they tend to go to VA hospitals and treat at the clinics where they run into people. There are niches out there where you have a captive audience. They read the same magazines, that’s an example. So the niches do exist out there outside of what I do, obviously. And there are opportunities for referrals because the people in these little niches tend to congregate in the same places, read the same publications, travel to the same places, have the same online chat communities and things like that.

Chris Dreyer:

Eric understands this client base so well that he wrote the book, Betrayal of Valor to address their major pain points.

Eric Gang:

Veterans often feel like they’re not being heard with respect to the experiences they’re having and the problems that veterans have, I see them in my office all the time. For instance, suicide rates amongst veterans are much higher than the civilian population. Homelessness rates are much higher in the veteran population than the civilian population. Rates of substance abuse, rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, all kinds of other health problems exist in higher numbers amongst the veteran population. And it’s a travesty that a country like ours treat its veterans the way our veterans are treated. So the purpose was really to raise awareness to the issues to help it become a catalyst for change. But to continue this discussion, the book is not really heavy on VA claims like the legal side of things that we do. It’s really more on the medical side of things and the health side of things and the social problems that we’re experiencing in America with our veteran population. The book hit bestseller in five categories the first day it went on sale. It’s not a novel.
It’s a niche publication, affects a very small portion of our population. The second edition is coming out. I just finished the new updated chapter this week. So the second edition is coming out even though the first edition just been out for a month or so. Problem when you write a book is that it becomes that by the time they actually publish it and print it, some stuff is outdated already. And so we had to update it. I mean, I think the main thing is that a book also is something that does help position a person as an authoritative figure.

Chris Dreyer:

I wrote a book with Scribe and they used Lion Crest and I had a really good experience. But the downside of what I found out for our audience considering Scribe is they are not a traditional publisher like a Harper Collins or one of these big names. So when it comes to your distribution and ability to get in some of these major places like your Barnes or New York Times list, you just don’t have that with a Lion Crest and to continue, I just wanted to really emphasize that point because I think a lot of our audience is looking at companies like Scribe, but the publisher behind it is really key.

Eric Gang:

Yes, and I had a great publicist and the publicist does so much to help things and to manage things. And it’s really something that for any members of your audience that are looking to publish a book, paying a publicist to work with you and do what they do, they do some magic behind the scenes. I don’t even understand everything that they do, but well worth the money, well worth the money because you could just publish a book and sometimes the publishers don’t do much to promote it, but if you have a publicist, they’re going to do everything they can to promote the book by itself. And there’s a big debate amongst authors that write that are lawyers. Do you write one of these practice series books that only lawyers read or you either write a book for the consumer? And my publicist always said, “Trust me, write the book to the consumer. You get more bang for your book than writing some practice series that only lawyers read.”

Chris Dreyer:

There’s just so many intangible benefits from the book that I read. It said, “Beyond grim statistics, the Honorable Edward T. Timberlake mentions in the foreword of your book that it serves as a healing experience for veterans who have felt forgotten.” Geez, that’s so powerful.

Eric Gang:

Yeah, and Ed Timberlake is a very, well… He’s written a lot of books. He was Assistant Secretary of the VA under Ronald Reagan, and he wrote a lot of those books in the conservative media that were published around the time Bill Clinton was president, the different Bill Clinton scandals. I guess it comes down to this idea of conscious capitalism. We want to do the right things. We want to raise the right awarenesses and talk about the right issues to affect change for people’s lives. And there may not be a direct immediate profitability realization, but if you subscribe to the theory that if you do the right thing and you do it well and you have integrity, then in the long run that’s a business model that will be successful, may not be the fastest way to get to your economic goals. But I think in the long run it’s more of a slow process of trying to affect change in an area that we really care about.
When you take a veteran who say came back from Vietnam in the early 1970s, it never could really work, and I had one client nine months after getting back from Vietnam, was in the psych hospital, in and out of the psych ward multiple times throughout the 70s, the 80s. He filed a claim for VA benefits in 86. They denied him, denied him, denied him, and we finally won his benefits like 30 years later and he gets some money and he is able to buy a house. He has a monthly compensation check, and at that moment he feels like his sacrifice has been recognized at that point. These guys, at the end of the day, if you really probe deeply and cut through what they’re saying to really understand what they’re saying on an emotional level, they’re really saying basically they feel in some ways like their manhood was taken from them.
And when the government does not recognize their claim and pay them their benefits, it’s not as much the money. It’s you don’t recognize what I gave up, what I sacrificed. So those experiences that I’ve had with clients has really transformed my approach to things. So it’s a difference between saying you care and trying to do the things on the surface that suggest you care because it helped business versus actually really caring at the end of the day when nobody’s looking. So those experiences really motivate me to continue doing what we’re doing and it makes it all the difference in the world when you can affect a person’s life like that.

Chris Dreyer:

That makes me think of, I think it’s the go giver mentality of giving without expecting anything in return. And those individuals that do that you just naturally draw in just by giving and that good energy and cases and just that conscious capitalism that you’re talking about, which is the first time I’ve heard that said together. And that might be your next book. What’s kind of next on the horizon in terms of going deeper and really helping your consumer, helping your clients?

Eric Gang:

Yeah, I mean one of the exciting things we’ve got in the works right now is through my nonprofit, I have a physician on our board and we’re looking to fund a study with veterans and try to make some changes with their health and to track them through the journey and to try to raise awareness to the idea of preventative health and lifestyle medicine with veterans to see what changes we can achieve with a population of veterans. And then we plan to write about it if things go the way we expect they will, which is I think we can help them drastically improve their lives. And it speaks to the issue that we’re seeing with the Department of Defense, and one of the big reasons why they’re struggling to meet their numbers is because of the obesity epidemic in the United States.
We’re hoping to fund a study that will be able to demonstrate through changes in the lifestyle that some of these diseases can be mitigated and reversed. And if the VA and military adopted these policies, we would spend less on healthcare, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and if the government backed it from a health policy perspective, we might have more eligible recruits to fight in the Army or the Marine Corps or the Navy. So that’s what’s on the next horizon. So the end of the day we just try to do good things and do innovative things, and I’m sure we’ll draw some benefit from that in the long run and just stay committed to our mission and try and transform people’s lives.

Chris Dreyer:

By creating a rapport with your client. You not only hear how to win a case, but you gain their trust in the process. niching down can result in a happier client and a stronger practice. When you focus on only one area, the benefits compound. You can eliminate waste by creating repeatable processes that lend themselves to fewer errors and ultimately more profitability. Deeply understanding your client helps marketing spend efficiently because you understand where they are at what times, and as a result when the place ads. I’d like to thank Eric for sharing his 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 Dryer. If you 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.

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