57. Gordon McKernan, Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys Law Firm Family Succession And Giving Back

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McKernan makes giving back to his local community a priority. The hugely successful Louisiana personal injury attorney grew his father’s firm from a single site to 10 offices, with over 50 attorneys. But for Gordon, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the individuals.

Today, we discuss what it was like taking over the reins of a family business, how you and your firm can become more active in the community, and why you should always scrutinize your marketing strategy- even when it’s working!

Transcript

Chris Dreyer

A lot of us will be familiar with those early learning educational tapes. You know, the ones that drove your parents crazy while they were taking to school. Well, my guest today had a father with a different education in mind for his kid when they acquired a completely separate set of tapes, and set him up for his career by the time he reached high school.

Gordon McKernan

In junior high, he was given the set tapes of famous closing arguments in jury psychology and would have me listen to them at different times. And I started working for the law firm at high school, I was doing law clerk oriented work in high school, you know, summarizing things, looking up things. It taught me how to do research and all of that. So by the time I got out of, out of high school, I would say I was well on my way to being a lawyer, to being a plaintiff’s lawyer, specifically.

Chris Dreyer

My guest today is Gordon McKernan, owner of Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys, LLC. Gordon has been running his firm since 1998 after taking over for his father, Jerry McKernan. Gordon and his team have over 50 lawyers handling all kinds of cases from defective products to personal injury, but the firm also plays an active part in the local community, hosting various giveaways and supporting more than 200 community programs. Join us as we discuss what it was like taking over the reins of a family business, how you and your firm can become more active in the community, and why you should always scrutinize your marketing strategy- even when it’s working! 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.
From the outset, it looked like Gordon’s father definitely had dreams of his son following his in his footsteps. And although other professions caught Gordon’s eye, the variety of cases that his father introduced him to prove to be too alluring for Gordon to resist.

Gordon McKernan

He was guiding and directing my path even while I didn’t know it. And I flirted with doing medicine in college, but I was still working for the whole time. He, but he let me figure it out. He didn’t force it, but he put enough steps along the way and breadcrumbs to lead me down the trail. Just him talking about the stories of different trials that he had won and how exciting it was and how he got to learn different things along the way.
So you might get a product liability airplane crash, right. And you had to learn how that works. Right. And then the next thing, and you got a maritime rig explosion so you had to learn about, you know, rigs and drilling. And he always talked about how interesting it was, and how challenging it was to learn these new things, master them, and then go, go try a case on it. So that always intrigued me. I was always worried I would get bored as a lawyer. You know, you hear the stories.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, and I imagine doing multiple areas of, of even PI would keep you on your toes when you get an interesting case. We spoke with John Nachazel over Mike Morris law firm, he’s their COO, and we recently had him on and, you know, he was talking about how founders of law firms become very attached to what they built and they find it kind of hard to give up the reigns to someone else. So kind of, how was that transition for you and your father? I’m just kind of interested in that aspect.

Gordon McKernan

Oh, it, it wasn’t easy. It was a, uh, it was a long arduous process. Um, for multiple reasons, one of them being that, you know, he had groomed me into a trial lawyer and I started trying cases and tried a lot of cases with them but I could see the shifting sands of how the business was being realigned. I saw it early and it was fortunate, I just kind of saw it and said, you know, if we’re going to compete, we got to go advertise. And, uh, by this time, you know, he’s in his mid-sixties or whatever, and he, he didn’t want to do it. You know, he was more respectable than that. And, um, so me shifting the firm from a pure trial firm to an advertising trial firm was a struggle for him. Right. And just the whole thing that now we’re advertising for business. And then with that, all of a sudden, um, you know, when you pour millions of dollars into a campaign, I become better known than him just because I’m on TV all day. Right. And although he was the lead trial lawyer and president of this association that he had always had a great reputation, it was hard for him as a proud warrior type to accept that, wow, my, my son is now becoming the popular and famous one. And, um, it was a struggle. I gotta be honest, you know, that’s what made him who he was. He didn’t take a back seat to anything and it was, it was hard for him to take that back seat. Um, but we did, you know, not without some bumps and bruises along the way and a father, son relationship, but, um, it worked well in the end. He and he adapted and, you know, he passed the torch so to speak and we managed to work it out.

Chris Dreyer

Awesome. Awesome. Well, that’s good to hear. And, you know, so I was really curious in that in, you know, when the firms started you had kind of your handful of attorneys and then fast forward, now you have over 150 employees. So obviously advertising works, you know, what were some of those major milestones that come to mind in this trajectory, from not only a people standpoint but also a marketing standpoint.

Gordon McKernan

Yeah. From, from the marketing standpoint, I remembered it was kind of fool’s gold. But I remember the very first week we went on TV and we got a call from a lady who was injured in a bad trucking accident. And, um, she, she flipped a coin to go with me versus my biggest competitor at that time. And she chose heads and I was heads and she flipped it. And you know, this case was almost a million-dollar case right away, you know, when it’s coming in the door. And, I was like, man, this is going to be easy. Right. The very first week I knew that I was already playing with house money, or so I thought. But I learned quickly that they didn’t come in like that every day, but it did give me a little capital, so to speak, to continue to say, all right, we’re going to see through it because I know we have some money coming in, milestones along the way, I guess that everybody wants, you know, when do I bring in a thousand cases in a year, when do I bring in 2,500, 5,000, 10,000? So we were, we passed all those milestones. This year, had COVID not hit, we would have done 10,000 cases which was a big goal. We were on target to bus through that but had to pull back. So we’ve had some of those milestones, which were great. I always want it to get 50 plus lawyers, which we did. And we still have 50, even though we’ve had to pull back a little bit because of COVID. So that was a big milestone for us 200 employees, which we had pre-COVID I think was a milestone, but I’m not going to attach myself to those milestones as much anymore post COVID because it that’s not the thing I should focus on- how many employees we get in, how many lawyers would get. You know, COVID scares you as any business owner when you have millions of dollars going out and advertising and overhead, something like this gets you to focus on your numbers again. Right. We’ve just been so blessed and fortunate that the growth came, we never had to worry about that. But we’re, we’re a better company and we’re better business people as a result of COVID.

Chris Dreyer

Well, let’s dive into that. So is it more like the attribution side of things and dial that in, you know, whether it’s a case management system, like Needles or Litify, is that what’s like, hey, 50% of our marketing’s working, but we don’t know what 50% it’s like, well, we gotta figure out what that is.

Gordon McKernan

Yeah. That’s a big part of it trying to better understand why people are calling us and where it’s coming from. When you have just nominal growth and income just coming at you, you’re just trying to absorb it, right. And you’re hiring people and you’re throwing bodies and money at the new growth. And you don’t have the time to really sit back and study your business. Um, COVID changed that. When you go to work from home, everything is shut down, you start looking what the heck is going on here. I mean, you have these departments, how efficient is that? Are we wasting money in this space? And we were, we were literally spending, you know, just stupid money on just PPC. Right? We were just hundreds of thousands of dollars a month without regard for, is it really paying off? Because we could. But we’ve dialed back in, we’re more introspective and we’re thinking through things better. And we’re like, we’re still in the midst of this process, we’re changing from Needles to Litify and we’ve got some other more robust reporting programs, Datarama, things like that, that we’re trying to better understand where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Chris Dreyer

Well, I think that’s, that’s incredibly important. I think, continuous improvements have to occur and I think this is allowed you to do those retrospectives and really dial in. So that’s great to hear and that’s going to be really exciting. So, you know, once this kind of comes to an end, I know everything’s changing, you’re going to be able to know where to invest your funds and just continue to just rocket ship up. So that’s just awesome.
Gordon’s plan to take his father’s firm in a new direction and focus on putting out a strong marketing strategy worked and where most would probably run with that success and reinvest in themselves, Gordon chose to reinvest in his local community. To date, Gordon has hosted multiple car seats and bike giveaways, provided free Christmas meals, And his firm supports more than 200 community programs. I asked Gordon why giving back is so important to him and his firm.

Gordon McKernan

You know, that’s a good question. My dad was always a very giving person. You know, he just had a big old heart. His thirst for justice, literally is it was not normal. Cases would come in the door and he just took them and he ran with them and they were tough cases, but he always believed and given voice to things that didn’t have it. So I guess I had that in my backdrop. And then I would say that my faith, my Christian faith, just being aware of the privilege and the blessings that I’ve had in the responsibility, I think, that comes with that. If much is given to you, much as expected, type of attitude. You can’t just take from something and not give back to the community at large. So I would think that those two things, just my dad’s, you know, watching him always try to do right from a just reason. Right? And so there are so many things that need, that need help. And then that there’s injustice in the world and it could be just, people need a gift, a helping hand, an organization needs some more funds or needs some people to volunteer for something. So I think those two things, just Christian beliefs, as well as my father’s example that he set for me.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. And I think those values that just, it really comes across really natural that you know, that you’re truly giving back. And I’ve seen, you know, I read somewhere that you have been doing bike and car seat giveaway since like 2011 or 12 for a long time.

Gordon McKernan

For probably 10 years and we usually give about four to 500 bikes away and we give car seats away. So we’ve probably, you know, three, four or 5,000 bikes over the years giving away. Or I give a Bible away at every settlement, we’re over 50,000 Bibles and given away, and the seat giveaway. So that, yeah, that’s part of it. Unfortunately this year with COVID we were not able to do our bike giveaway, we’re having to just give Christmas meals and Christmas dinners. It was too hard to figure out the state, the, um, of the winners of the bikes, um, during COVID times, cause we do a big deal. It’s not just, oh, you come get a bike and then you’d get out there. There’s pictures. There’s all sorts of things to eat and we have a petting farm thing. And so that’s the big deal. And there’s a lot of interaction between our offices where it’s all occurred and the people, and I just couldn’t figure out a safe way to do that this year. So we put it off for a year. We’ll hopefully, you know, do it again next year. And this year we’re giving away about 300 Christmas dinners across the state where literally you just have to drive up in our parking lot and we’re going to walk out and put your meal in your trunk or your back seat and give you a few things and what you know, with masks and gloves and you’ll be safe and can drive off.

Chris Dreyer

That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Now, obviously not everyone can jump straight into giving away thousands of bikes or start funding hundreds of community projects. But I wanted to find out from the expert, what other lawyers at law firm owners could do if they wanted to start giving back to their community.

Gordon McKernan

Yeah, well, you hit it. Just get started. Take that first step, right. Find something. And I’d like to do it. I like to find causes that align closely with your values or your experiences of life. So, cancer-based causes and Christian based causes jump to me real quick because I’m a Christian and believe in supporting things like that. But, you know, my father had cancer, you know, my mother had cancer, my older brothers had cancer, so there’s been some cancer in my family. So I tend to be a softie for those things. And it’s really easy to just jump into that. And then you can partner with any one of those groups through the years, we’ve had different types of standing relationships and partnerships and do those things. But just reach out and partner with them.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, that’s incredible. Yeah. And kind of shift into a personal here. So, you know, clearly you’re really passionate about giving back to others, but how about yourself? What are some of the things that you like to indulge in on your time off? What are some of your hobbies?

Gordon McKernan

Well, you know, uh, I don’t have a whole lot of time off, I’m trying to figure out how to do that more. And it’s a transition now that I’m basically an empty nester, obviously pouring into my kids and their activities and their life. It was an important thing that all of my kids were involved in sports. So that was, you know, 20 years of my life and now, um, I’m trying to figure out kind of what to do next. I love to fly fish. I love to be out West. I love to boat. So when I’m fly fishing or boating, my hands are on a wheel or on a fly rod, I can’t answer a telephone. And I figured out that and that’s good for me, you know, it’s good to disconnect, and I like to play golf. But I have a lot of conference calls on the golf course. I’ve learned how to put that phone down while I’m hitting the ball and still, you know, play good golf. So those are kinda my things working out some, but when I work out I’m on the phone the whole time, how those AirPods in my ears and I’m talking the whole time. So to truly break away, probably boating and fly fishing.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, you got to get away in those areas that don’t have the cell service. And Gordon, as we kind of come to a close here, we do our three for three, which is just a quickfire round three questions in three minutes. And I think you’re going to know the first question here, but what is your top search engine optimization tips?

Gordon McKernan

Hire Rankings! You know, and you bring up a good point because it’s interesting how things wax and wane through the years. And years ago, it was all organic and SEO, and then PPC came along and we kind of forgot about, you know, SEO and organic. And we were so focused on PPC and we were spending. We didn’t tend to that part and we suffered as a result. And through some changes we’ve done, we realized it and we jumped from the company we were with cause they were not… it wasn’t their strong suit. We tried to go with another company that they were supposedly real good with it and that didn’t work. And then we were fortunate to find you guys and everything that my tech people and marketing people are telling me that we’re on the right course and things are looking better. So that would be my first tip.

Chris Dreyer

Well, thank you for that. Thank you for that. And, uh, which entrepreneurs do you admire the most?

Gordon McKernan
So, um, there are several that come to mind, you know but on a big, big scale Steve Jobs and what he did in his attention to detail and his attention to just breaking the mold. And I like to kind of, you know, I think we’ve done some things in our world that have kind of break broken the mold. And when you first got that, that first Apple product in the open the box, and you looked at the box and the packaging, you’re thinking how much money did they waste on that packaging? And that’s what I remember thinking the first time. But think about it, it’s so much different than the experience you had when you have opened up a product or a package. Right. And it’s, it made me think about how do we do our things? What type of promotional stuff and swag stuff do we give? So if you’ve ever seen our, our promotional swag room, it’s…

Chris Dreyer

I’ve seen it.

Gordon McKernan

It’s incredible. It’s unlike any other country, right? No other law firm that I’m aware of does anything like that? That was kind of inspired by that same sense of all when, when people settle the case and they come through our thing, they get to go on the shopping trip, they’re more excited about the stuff in there. Then literally their check that they received and it’s kind of the same thing. So Steve Jobs, obviously a great visionary and the big things, you know, the iPod and the watch and the phone, but he would have his company spend the time on the packaging like that just amaze me, just, you know, so probably him.

Chris Dreyer

Incredible. Incredible. And then what’s, uh, what’s the next thing on your bucket list? I know we talked about the fly fish and what’s the next thing on your bucket list?

Gordon McKernan

From a business perspective

Chris Dreyer

Or just like, uh let’s. Well, let’s just, let’s do both. Let’s do a business and a personal.

Gordon McKernan

Yeah. The next thing on business, the bucket list is to try to see if I can maintain the momentum and the cases that we have had coming in while being down, you know, 40 to 50% on our advertising overall spit. So when, when COVID hit. Um, you know, I made the decision literally quickly early, early on, I cut 90% of my advertising budget, right? Millions and millions of millions of dollars. And then I slowly ratcheted back up over the last six, seven months. And now we’re at about 45% of our spend. Right. Which is an eight-figure number that we’re saving as a company, we’re not spending. And I’d love to figure out if we can maintain the same calls and cases and leads while spending this much less, you know, we obviously established a brand very fortunate for that. So that’s kind of, I mean, I’m intrigued by it. Can we continue that? That’s kind of my big challenge. How can we bring all this new technology and all this new efficiency? Because we got rid of departments and we got rid of some dead weight and personnel. So all of this has been a great cost saving for the company. But can we also maintain, you know, that goal of 10,000 cases while spending a tremendous amount less? So that’s kind of the bucket list, the immediate bucket list. Uh, long-term bucket list. It’ll be interesting to see if one of my kids comes to work for the firm and if it doesn’t, then what I might do and the actions of that. My personal bucket list is to figure out how to spend more time out West. You know, I just, I love the mountains and the scenery and the things and the activities, I’m very active, hiking, biking, you know, fishing., COVID forced us to realign and figure out things, and now that I know I can run my company virtually to some extent, obviously, I need to be there at times, but I’d love to be able to integrate that. Can I really run the company well, and the company succeeds while I am out West. So that’s been like most owners were, we work all the time or we don’t think anybody else can do anything at the company. And we have to do every single thing, but COVID made you delegate and you had to trust people because you couldn’t be there. So I’ve got some good people and I’d love to be able to figure, all right, guys, you run your departments. I’m still gonna run mine. I’m gonna be back and forth, but I’d like to spend some time and enjoying my life out West.

Chris Dreyer

What a great conversation with Gordon. He’s taken his firm from a one-office operation to a practice with 10 locations and over 150 staff. His success is a real testament to what effective marketing can achieve. And I couldn’t agree more with this comment on paying close attention to your marketing, even when things are going great.
You’ve been listening to it’s The Rankings Podcast. I’m Chris Dreyer. A huge thank you to today’s guest Gordon McKernan 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, how do you get your firm involved in a local community? Drop us a review and share your thoughts. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.

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