150. Joe Nazarian, Pathway Law Firm — Winning Instinct: How High EQ Impacts Your Bottom Line

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Joe Nazarian (@joe_nazarian) and his firm Pathway Law Firm (@pathwaylawfirm) have recovered over $60 million for his clients. In the process, he has expanded to five offices across the west coast and Texas. From hiring new staff to intake and even marketing, empathy is at the core of every decision Joe makes. To secure cases, your intake team needs to have a high EQ. Joe oversees nearly every hire and never misses an opportunity to improve.

He shares with us the inner workings of his intake process, building brand recognition in new markets, and how to scout a new office location.

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What’s in This Episode:

  • Who is Joe Nazarian?
  • As the firm grows, how has his approach to business development evolved?
  • How does culture inform intake and why is EQ so important?
  • What to look for when opening a new office location?

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

Joe Nazarian:

When you’re starting out, you don’t have that budget to have that big fancy billboard or be on TV all the time. So you got to think outside of the box.

Chris Dreyer:

When tapping into new markets, immerse yourself in the culture. In an ocean of competition, look for where you can stand out by digging in.

Joe Nazarian:

You don’t have to have more than that. You just got to be different, and you got to find what that different avenue is for you particular, that’s going to work for you.

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. Before we start, today marks our 150th episode and the start of the winter holiday season. I want to express my gratitude to the guests who have shared their insights on the show, from world class marketers and business owners to best-selling authors and some of the most impactful attorneys in the business, and to every listener who has been with us since the beginning. If you’re new here, we are glad to have you. From everyone at rankings, thank you. We couldn’t do this without you. Let’s get to the show.
Empathy is at the core of every decision Joe Nazarian makes, from hiring staff with high EQ, intake evaluation, and even marketing tactics. He identifies where the firm can be better served, and it pays dividends. His firm, Pathway Law Firm, has recovered over $60 million for his clients, allowing him to expand into five offices across the West Coast and Texas. To secure the case, you got to have a strong, empathetic intake team. Joe’s staff is a shining example. He’s constantly conducting self-audits and never misses an opportunity to improve. We get into the inner workings of his intake process, he shares with us the best ways to think about brand recognition when building a new practice, and what to look for when you’re scouting for a new office location.
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. In Joe’s senior year of high school, his father, an Iranian, was attacked for speaking with a heavy Persian accent. He was knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital. As medical bills piled up, Joe’s family found it difficult to get guidance and help.

Joe Nazarian:

That kind of lit the fire underneath me. Then when I got my first job as an attorney, we had one PI case that came in and it was a young kid, 16 years old, traumatic brain injury. Defense was blaming him for everything. And what we did in the three years of litigation up to right at the doorstep of trial, it really showed me that we do need people that will step up to bat, explain everything that’s going on, and not let people get taken advantage of for not understanding the process. And those two events really helped push me to start my own practice and assist in any way that I can.

Chris Dreyer:

I imagine at that time with your dad, it was just this helpless feeling and you’re like, “Hey, I’m not going to let this happen to me again or to my family. I want to protect them.” So did you end up getting an attorney to help with that situation? You did get some resolution there?

Joe Nazarian:

Yeah, it was definitely a very scary period of time. My dad was unable to work. Bills were piling up. And we ultimately did find an attorney who stepped up to bat for us, took on the case, and more importantly was with us step by step, explaining everything that was going on. He wasn’t like an absentee type of person. He walked hand in hand with us throughout the entire process, until it was brought to a conclusion.

Chris Dreyer:

I’d imagine that when you started your own firm, since you had this experience, you’ve been on both sides. Is that something that you took to heart, that you tried to implement and basically model when you started your own practice?

Joe Nazarian:

Absolutely. I think empathy is a huge, huge part of it. The greater majority of people that reach out to our office that have been injured, they’ve never gone through anything like this, they don’t really know what’s going on. Even those minor fender benders, those people, they still need that empathy. Their vehicle might be destroyed. They can’t get their kids to school, they can’t go to work, they can’t go grocery shopping. There is a huge dent in their life that we need to help them out, really, and show them the way, so to speak.

Chris Dreyer:

I’ve got to tell you, me and my president we’re on the way to meet a client in St. Louis that flew in, and we are dead stop on Interstate 64 and we got in a wreck. And here I am, I own an SEO agency and have seen a million blogs on what to do after a car accident. But it was just shook, right? Kind of scrambled, didn’t really know what was going on. And it is just like, I would’ve appreciated an attorney that could have reinforced even the things that I knew and how I should proceed, but in that moment it just wasn’t clear. So over the past decade, you’ve grown your firm to over six locations across California and Texas. Every firm starts with one location though. So take us back there. What was it like to open your own firm and then how has your marketing efforts evolved over the years?

Joe Nazarian:

Scary. It was scary starting out, but I dove right in. I just jumped in and I really took whatever came in. I did focus on personal injury, but whatever cases came in, I took them on and I did as best as I could. And the way that I was just marketing was I really put myself out there. And once I started building a name for myself and telling people what I’m doing and networking at different events throughout the county that we had with Cala, which is in Los Angeles… It’s tough. It’s scary. I started out in an office with no windows. It was a shoebox, it was just me and I stuffed the envelopes with the letters, I got them out. I opened claims with adjusters and I would take a deposition later that afternoon. So we did everything that we could to just keep building and building.

Chris Dreyer:

At the very beginning, you used your sphere of influence, put yourself out there. A lot of grassroots, a lot of networking. So what was it like, some of those early hires and some of those early marketing decisions where it wasn’t just you networking. Where you’re deciding, hey, what was the thought process, and what was some of those early steps that you took?

Joe Nazarian:

When I first started my practice, I was still working at the law firm that I had originally started at. I was doing personal injury just on the side, whatever they would give me I would take on. And slowly as I built that piggy bank, that pipeline that kind of started to come through, I would reinvest every single dollar back into myself. Whether it was from building that website, getting some PPC going, getting some SEO going, whatever it is that I thought that I could use to put myself out there. Printing t-shirts, just doing everything and just to get my name out there, I just did. It was consistently just reinvesting every dollar that we made back into marketing myself, or being able to help people that have been involved in any type of accident.

Chris Dreyer:

When you first stand out, name recognition is critical. The exposure will compound over time. As Joe’s firm has grown, so has his approach to business development.

Joe Nazarian:

First and foremost, I really think that it’s about the customer service. We are a service-based industry, and it all starts from when that person calls you, whether it’s a case you want to take on or not, the service that you provide that person, how they leave that conversation with you, it should resonate with them. We’ve had a number of times where we won’t take on a case for whatever reason, and that person’s experience with us, the time that we took to talk to them and explain everything to them, they’ll refer somebody over to us.
When somebody does reach out to you, it’s providing them with that service, that knowledge that you have, whether you can help them or not. And if it’s not something that’s in your wheelhouse, find somebody that can help them. They’re going to remember who you are. We’ve just developed other little things throughout the years. Anytime anybody calls us, we’re going to reach back out to that person in 30 days, 90 days, we’re going to send them something. We’re going to consistently be touching that person every so often. We’re going to send them newsletters, we’re going to send them whatever type of marketing material we have so that we’re constantly staying on top of their mind.

Chris Dreyer:

I think that’s so smart. A lot of times what I see is individuals who just won’t accept a case, and they’re not empathetic and don’t truly help that individual and that’s when they get ping with a negative review. It wasn’t even the experience of working with the firm, it was just how they were treated on the intake. And then that also speaks a lot to what could lead to future referrals and driving down those case acquisition costs, just being human. And individuals who want to talk about that experience that they had. We kept coming up with a lot of compliments on your guys’ intake. I was just wondering if you could touch on the intake at your firm. Is it an all in-house thing. Do you use a strategic partner? Tell me a little bit about your intake and what makes it really thrive.

Joe Nazarian:

We handle intake in-house 100%, and I have really been nitpicky on everything that goes down. So from how long it takes us to answer the phone, I even… And on top of that, it shouldn’t be more than three to four rings. You got to answer that phone. And it’s not just about answering the phone. How are you answering the phone? How are you presenting yourself? You’re the first person that this person’s going to talk to. Are you talking in some monotone voice or are you presenting yourself as somebody who is happy to talk to that person, ready to talk to that person, ready to help?
I even go as far as looking to see, if it’s a case that we turned down, how long did you spend with that person? You got to spend at least 10 minutes with that person on the phone to really understand, is it something we want to take on or not? And if it’s not, we really got to explain to them why. We’ll randomly listen to recordings. I even go as far as, sometimes I’ll just pick up my cell phone and just call the number and see, how long did it take to pick up the phone and what did you sound like when you answered? But it’s a constant building. It’s constantly adapting to, who can really take on a call in the office, and really just reviewing and learning with them. It’s a constant training process with intake.

Chris Dreyer:

I like the tonality, the answering with intention, the quickness. I mean that even helps a Google screen. And I was talking to an attorney earlier today, and I was curious myself, because how many intake people do you need? Obviously, the answer is, it depends on the type of calls you’re getting. But for example, if you’re getting 400 to 800 calls, what’s the size of a good intake team? And then also, how do you think about 24/7 coverage? I mean, you got people staffed at night, early in the morning, or is it going to a strategic partner?

Joe Nazarian:

In the beginning we did have one intake person and obviously they couldn’t take on every call and they couldn’t answer 24 hours a day. So we did have a third party answering service that was helping us out, and we gave them a script of what to say, what to ask. And essentially from there we continued to develop our script until we made the decision, bringing it in-house. Currently we do have somebody that’s manning the phones 24 hours a day and that person is dedicated in-house in this firm. They don’t work with anybody else. We don’t have any third party answering services or anything like that at this time. But look, when you’re starting out, that might not be possible. You’re going to have to have somebody who’s answering that phone 24/7, and having a strategic partner that’s a third party answering service is great. A lot of people have done it and you should do it when you’re starting out.
The number of people that you’re going to have on your intake staff is… Really, you’re going to get a lawyer answer. It depends, right? Depends on what’s your call volume. And you really need to understand, well, when are your calls coming in? How many people should I, am I getting a lot of calls at 11:00 PM or are my calls coming in at 11:00 AM? When I started out, in addition to having that third party strategic partner, I was taking the calls myself. I didn’t have staff. So I was the one that was doing, I was the intake team, I was the lawyer, I was everything. So I was really able to not only develop my script for that third party company that we use, but then develop my script for the in-house team, but also then to understand, when do I need more team members?
Here in our office, we don’t get too many calls late at night. The greater majority of our calls come early morning and mid-day. So we have beefed up our staff, and other members of the office are also trained on how to take an initial call intake. So we have the people that are going to screen the call and once an intake person is ready, they’ll transfer the call off over to them perhaps, and finish closing it out.

Chris Dreyer:

And people talk about just in-house or outsourcing binary, but they don’t talk about things like script and when the call volume’s coming in. And I think those are just things that have to be taken into consideration. And then also the E-Myth Revisited, right, you’re the technician, you’re the manager, the owner, and you’re wearing all these hats at the beginning.

Joe Nazarian:

That’s how it develops. Data is king, right? But there’s nobody better to digest that data than whoever’s leading the firm. If it’s your firm, you got to know what that data is, but what better way to do it than to dive right in? Take those calls, figure out, well when are my calls coming in? What sources are best for my marketing dollars? And start putting your attention towards that. Am I getting more premise liability cases, or am I getting more auto cases? Why am I doing it? So when you are doing it, when you’re starting out, there’s nobody better to do it than yourself, as opposed to having a strategic partner and having them take everything on. You’re the one that’s going to want to do it, learn it first, and then pass it on to a strategic partner. Have them as your backup when you’re not available. But definitely getting there yourself so you truly understand what’s going on and how to train the staff that you’re eventually going to hopefully hire.

Chris Dreyer:

Yeah, I love that. And it’s not delegation by abdication, it’s like you can actually delegate with processes from your own experience. So one thing I’ve heard you say a few times is empathy. And I saw that love and compassion are two big parts of the DNA of your firm. So how do you make sure that’s infused throughout the firm, and you share those values with everyone that you’re working with and then the clients get those experience that as well?

Joe Nazarian:

You can’t be an absentee law firm owner or an absentee leader. You have to understand what’s going on in your office. You have to talk to your staff. They have to be on the same level as you, they have to be on the same wavelength as you. When we hire somebody, we’re not always looking at that resume, “Okay, you worked here, you did this.” It’s also about the person and their attitude and how they interact with you as the law firm owner and how they’ll interact with the rest of the staff. And empathy does go a long way. Everybody can remember a time where something negative happened to them, and how the people that were around them made them feel, whether it was positive or negative. And they have to bring those experiences, bring those experiences into this office and understand that it goes beyond a case file in this office. It’s not just a case file, it’s a human being.
It’s, something happened to that person and they don’t know what to do and they’re reaching out to us to help them. Put yourself in that person’s shoes. You’re a single mother who has children, needs to go to the grocery store, needs to take them to school, needs to go to work herself. And she just got rear-ended and doesn’t have her car. And it’s the first time it’s ever happened to her. What would you do? How would you feel? That’s a lot of the things that we do when we’re training not just our intake but our case managers as well too. That’s why it’s really important to get that out there initially when you’re training your staff, so that they can really understand when they start diving into each case, to give it the time and attention that it truly needs.

Chris Dreyer:

For people like Joe, EQ or emotional intelligence comes naturally. To make sure that his team shares that same elevated level of empathy, he has a rigorous hiring process.

Joe Nazarian:

So we go old school, we don’t necessarily have fancy computer programs where we give module tests. We go through a different stages of hiring, the hiring process. We have a hiring manager who will do that initial interview and get a feel for the person, do a mock telephone call, for example, if it’s an intake person that we’re going to be bringing on. And see how they speak, their tone, how they’re dealing with a client or a potential client that kind of has an attitude. I’ll be the one that’s going to take it to the second stage of the interview. And really it goes by feel, is really what it is. We go by feel, we give that person an opportunity and if they cut it, they cut it. And if they don’t, then we’ll hopefully find a different position within the office for them.

Chris Dreyer:

Yeah, that’s a great way of looking at it. And I like the assessment feature and actually testing them, giving them a tough situation to see if they handle it with EQ and empathy, like you mentioned previously. Looking how far your firm’s come in the past 10 years and how much you’ve grown, I got to imagine you’re not planning on stopping anytime soon. When you’re looking at pictures out in the future, where’s the firm in three years? What’s some of the future goals?

Joe Nazarian:

My goal is to expand into other jurisdictions. So we started in California, we made our mark in Texas for the last couple of years, and we’re slowly going to start heading into some other states. Arizona, New Mexico are next on the list, and we’re going to do whatever is necessary to hit the ground running in all of those states and helping the people that need some assistance there. But our goal is to get to Southwest, and expand from there and continue to grow and give opportunities to people that want to help and help everybody that’s in need of our services.

Chris Dreyer:

Yeah, I love that. I love the expansion mindset. And I want to just pick your brain, just what goes into your head when you’re thinking, “Oh, I’m going to open up this new office.” You’ve got staffing, you got marketing. What’s some of the things that you’re just immediately like, “Okay, I got to have this great location, I got to do this marketing.” What’s some of those things that you’re thinking about?

Joe Nazarian:

The first thing we start thinking about is marketing. We got to know the landscape. I’m not going to go into a market where I’ve never been. Actually before we went to Texas, I actually went and spent time in Texas, spent time in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and got a makeup for the landscape, how people really deal with each other. I literally lived there for a little bit. So that’s one of the things we’re going to start to do and start to develop. Just get an understanding and a feel for the community, right? Because that’s really what it’s all about. And a lot of our marketing that we do now is, a lot of it has to do with community outreach. We do go to swap meets and different city events, and we sponsor different programs within schools from scholarships to events that they have. So we get a feel for the community and that’s how we’re going to expand into each city. It’s not all online digital marketing, a lot of it is grassroots marketing, is what we try and focus on.

Chris Dreyer:

That’s the first time I’ve heard the immersion standpoint of going there and experiencing it and where people are congregating and where communities are. And I think that’s super smart. A lot of people talk about… Look, I’m a digital guy, but I think all marketing works to some degree. Billboards work, radio works, carvertize, rap cars work, all these things work. And it is attention arbitrage. And I like how even from the very beginning you mention, “Hey, I’m pounding the ground, I’m using my sphere of influence, my friends and family.” And you’ve continued to just push that because it’s worked and continue to leverage it.

Joe Nazarian:

Yeah, digital works, billboard works, radio work, it all works. You got to do all of it. But digital is expensive, billboards are expensive. TV commercials are expensive. And when you’re starting out, you don’t have that budget to have that big fancy billboard or be on TV all the time. So you’ve got to think outside of the box sometimes. But a lot of it does go back to old-school type of marketing. Getting your name out there, having people know what you do.
Can’t tell you the number of times when I first started out that a friend of a friend be like, “Oh, I knew you were a lawyer, but I didn’t know you did that. I was just involved in a car accident.” And it’s like, well, what do you mean? How do you not know? So it’s getting your name out there consistently. And don’t knock those grassroots community events and consistently going there. That’s the main thing, it’s got to be consistent. You can’t just try this for a minute, and try that, and keep moving around. You got to be consistent in all of your marketing, whatever avenue that you take.

Chris Dreyer:

On the consumer side, when I drive into a city and I see a whole bunch of billboards, it just kind of drowns out, if I see just a whole bunch of attorneys. But if I see the same billboard or the same firm consistently, that’s where it brings that, that I can remember them more easily. And I’m even in the space. So I’m even more aware of what’s happening as opposed to someone that’s not in the legal vertical. And I think the same could probably be said, what you’re mentioning is with even grassroots.

Joe Nazarian:

Yeah, I mean, look, those guys are in everybody’s face all the time. Those billboard guys, the digital guys, they’re there. And you don’t have to be better than them necessarily. You don’t have to have more than that. You just got to be different. And you got to find what that different avenue is for you particular, that’s going to work for you. Because what I do might not work for the next guy and so on and so forth. But you got to find out what’s going to make you different and that sets you apart, so that people will remember you, so that people will want to come to you.

Chris Dreyer:

Joe, that’s so powerful. I think that’s a great piece of advice. And what’s next for Joe Nazarian, and what’s next for the firm?

Joe Nazarian:

Growing. We see exponential growth. I love walking into the office and seeing my staff and growing my staff. And like I said earlier, we’re going to grow into different markets and different practice areas hopefully. As things change and as things develop, we’ve taken on a lot more premise liability cases. We’re looking to get into mass court cases soon, so we’re just continuously growing in every way we can.

Chris Dreyer:

Joe’s family fell victim to violence. He became more empathetic and used his experience to build a better practice. When starting out, focus on brand recognition and saturating your market. As the calls come in, be hands-on in the intake process, know it inside and out. Create scripts, clearly establish expectations. And when you make your first hire, spot-check them with internal audits. Reviews can come from anyone, even people who do not sign with you. Make sure each potential client feels heard. As volume increases, analyze your data and adjust your staffing accordingly. I’d like to thank Joe Nazarian from Pathway Law Firm for sharing his story with us. I hope you gain some valuable insights from the conversation. You’ve been listening to Personal Injury Mastermind. I’m Chris Dreyer. If you like this episode, leave us a review. We 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. Happy holidays, everyone.

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