You have to go give three years of litigation to a jury and they have to learn the case in five days.
To be the best at your firm and in trial, you have to go all in.
I am constantly in my head thinking about, how can I better myself? How can I better my team? How can I serve these clients? I’m obsessed with it.
So I think that there is, I’m going to call it, dedication.
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.
John DeGasperis, partner at the law offices of Basch & Keegan, rakes in the likes on TikTok, with over two billion likes and over 70,000 followers. John sees social media as a tool to build a community.
He spends his own money on PR and marketing for his personal brand and has found success in documenting his day for creating content.
Everyone has a different style when it comes to social media, but for established attorneys with money to spend on marketing, hiring a production team can elevate your visibility and your caseload.
John is an exceptional trial attorney and brings each case he takes on to life. In one slip and fall trial alone, he used 77 exhibits to convey his client’s story.
He shares with us his insights from years in the courtroom.
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 John DeGasperis, partner at the law offices of Basch & Keegan.
I think it was high school. There were two phenomenons going on.I had a high school politics, US politics teacher who was kind of, I think, a liberal in his youth, and just taught me to respectfully question authority.
And then the next semester, I had another teacher and I started asking, “Can I sue for that?” And it was just this thing that just became an inside joke in the classroom.
So I would say it was back to high school. My mom says that’s when I started to fall in love with the law anyway.
Was your mom, did she call you a rebel and all those types of things back in the day?
No, I was a good kid, but I just always needed to question why something had to be the way someone said it had to be.
So I saw you started at SUNY Ulster, and now you’re a board member. And you say on your website attendance at SUNY Ulster was life changing and instrumental in putting you on the path to success.
So I really just wanted to dive into that. What was it about SUNY Ulster that really had this impact on you?
Yeah, thanks for asking that question, because I think it is a timely topic with student loan debt forgiveness.
I’m a big proponent of community colleges. I was forced to go to a community college because my dad said, “I’m not paying for college” because I wasn’t a good student. I was an athlete and a social star, if you will. I liked having a lot of friends.
And so I went to SUNY Ulster, I was playing baseball my first semester, and it just dawned on me after the coach didn’t start me in the first game that, if I can’t start at a community college baseball game, I’m not going to be playing baseball as a career. And I decided that I needed to learn how to study and read books.
So I committed myself to that, but I was a stranger to academics really. And SUNY Ulster had all of the resources and the teachers that I needed to really start my academic foundation.
And so when I returned to my hometown after college and law school, I reached out to the college to see if I could help, and now I’m a board member of the SUNY Ulster Foundation and our work, our goal is to fund students who don’t have as much financial resources and ensure that they have access to a college education.
SUNY Ulster has been recently ranked as the number one community college in New York state, which is a big deal, because if I’m not mistaken, each of our 62 or 64 counties has one. So it was a big thing for us.
Fast forwarding to your current firm, you earned a partnership at a very young age. It’s very uncommon to do that. The legal vertical is extremely saturated.
So for any of those listening, what were some of the elements, some of the tips that you could give other personal injury attorneys that are trying to make partner and how you did it?
I think hard work is a cop out because I have found that there are a lot of people who work hard. And don’t get me wrong, I worked hard, but I also adopted the law firm, its mission and objectives, as my life.
And I’m not saying that that is necessarily a good way to go about things. Some would say that’s a lot, like, “I live this place, I live my work. It’s at home with me, it’s on vacation with me.”
And that’s not to say that I don’t have downtime, but I am constantly in my head thinking about, how can I better myself? How can I better my team? How can I serve these clients? I’m obsessed with it. So I think that there is, I’m going to call it, dedication.
I was dedicated to the firm, not just through hard work, but in weekend events within the community, coming in at weird hours to get a project done, wearing the T-shirts, the branded T-shirts, not because I thought it was actually a marketing tool, but just that’s what I represent and I believe in the firm’s sort of level of integrity, respect.
And so I think it’s dedication to everything that your law firm stands for.
Yeah, I think that’s so important.
And so from what I’m hearing, you think the execution and hard work, if you’re trying to move up, that’s like table stakes, but it worked for you.
Everybody around you is working hard. If you went to law school, even if you were at the bottom of the class, if you got through, you worked hard. So it’s got to be something more.
The other thing I’ll say too is business development. I had a certain innate rainmaking ability, and I do believe, to some extent, that is innate. Some people are good at forming the ability to rainmake, you know, social media, newsletters, whatever it might be.
But I remember when I started with the law firm I’m with now, I decided to send a postcard out to my little book of business letting people know that, “Hey, I made this move.” And I think a lot of other laterals didn’t do that.
And I used my own money. I didn’t use the firm’s money to do that.
And we also serve a region. We’re not nationwide. We’re hardly even statewide. And so I know my region and I know how to go get what I need there.
So I do think that the ability to bring in new money is also a huge factor.
Fantastic. Fantastic. I love the proactiveness and the postcard and just staying top of mind. I mean, that works wonders. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. It’s attention arbitrage.
Yeah. Yeah.And you have highs and lows too, right? Like I sent that postcard, then I did another follow up, and then the work consumed me. So there was a little bit of time where I wasn’t as forward about the marketing.
Because I also believe … You know, I’m at a point in my career where all of my cases come from other lawyers. So you have to do the work, you have to execute and deliver for the clients and the referral sources, and then the work speaks for itself. So there’s a little bit of … You have to know the balance.
So you said it was just natural, you had these rainmaking abilities. How did you come across this and who are your mentors in helping you develop?
I have a mentor and he’s the founding partner of this law firm. He’s been a mentor to me in many respects. Because you have to remember … So I’m with a very small sort of boutique firm, and so you’re a business owner, you’re a trial lawyer, you’re a customer relations, you’re human resources, you’re all of it. So my mentor has taught me a lot in all respects, but him primarily with respect to the law and being a trial lawyer, and also being a good member of the community.
My mentor is very generous, very philanthropic. And I struggled to understand the importance of philanthropy.
But yeah, my partner is Eli Basch. I named my son after him. I mean, my whole career in many respects is based on the things that he has taught me.
And also, I spent a year with a solo practitioner who taught me a lot about passion.
As John has risen through the ranks as a trial attorney and won more and more cases, I want to know if it ever gets more difficult to win those trials.
I often think when I’m in the courtroom, “I can’t believe they sent that lawyer against me.”
So I keep expecting that they’re going to throw me the person that’s going to be my achilles tendon and they just keep sending these … I think they’re sending old timers. They’re seasoned, but I don’t think seasoned is a good vibe against me in a courtroom because I try to take a more youthful approach. I try to use technology, I try to be very engaging with the jury.
So when they send these old seasoned lawyers, I’m thinking, “Man, you picked the wrong pitcher against this left-handed hitter.” That’s what I keep thinking to myself.
So you mentioned tech. Is there a particular tech that you utilize to illustrate your points, to tell a better story? I got to imagine they’re probably doing the flip charts and the drawings and you’re bringing in this high tech.
The hardware itself seems to be changing every time we go to court, honestly. And admittedly, we’re not going to court that much anymore, which is a total disappointment. So if I’m trying three or four cases a year anymore, that’s a lot. And every time we try a case, we’re like, “Damn, that technology failed us”, or, “That didn’t work the way that we thought.”
And in fact, I mean, I just tried a product liability case, and in the middle of the trial, my tech failed. Everything failed; the audio. So I have to now play this video of the accident and I have no audio. We were holding microphones up to computers. And you have to be able to pivot without losing your cool.
So the hardware seems to change from trial to trial as we try to explore new things, but we definitely use … I’ve been using graphic animations. They cost a ton of money and they’re worth it because they scare the hell out of insurance companies.
We use medical illustrations even on our smallest cases. If there’s some way to bring a numeric factor to life, I’ll do that.
So I had this one client who used a pain chart, and he just sort of made up in his head he was going to use a pain scale of one to 10 in this diary that he made. So we took that and made it into a visual chart.
I have a medical malpractice case involving pharmaceutical drug use, and we’re going to make that into a chart to show the jury the dosages that were being used over time.
You don’t always have to spend a lot of money. We had a great result on a simple trip and fall with a serious injury. We used 77 exhibits in a trip and fall case. 77. And the jury loved it. It wasn’t too much. The judge was pissed at the thought of 77 exhibits.
Some of them related to economics, some of them related to her medical. So it wasn’t all just that the defect in the ground. But we bring cases to life. We have to.
And my paralegal is absolutely critical in our trial success. So I think I had a good trajectory, but as soon as I brought my paralegal on, who is absolutely exceptional, I haven’t lost with her, because as a team, we know the cases that we should try. We don’t try cases that we don’t believe in.
Yeah, and let’s talk about that. Let’s break that down, just the TLDR.
So talk about that case just briefly; just kind of your thinking and maybe just an overview of it.
You can’t try a case that you don’t believe in because the jury will see through you from the get go.
We knew the client, right? As a trial lawyer, you have the advantage of knowing the client for two to three years before the case gets to trial. You know their pains, you know how important this case is to them, you know how their injuries have changed the course of their life. And now you have to go give three years of litigation to a jury and they have to learn the case in five days. So if you don’t use exhibits, if you rely purely on testimony, you’re going to fall short as your trial lawyer.
So in that case, the woman had gone to a car show up in upstate New York at Lake George, and it was dark out and she was at the motel watching the cars drive by, and she tripped in this, essentially, a pothole.
She broke her shoulder, she had to have an emergency shoulder replacement, she lost her wage. She was a woman who never had much as it was, and certainly lived paycheck to paycheck, and unfortunately, she did not have health insurance. So all these extraordinary medical bills, she was shouldered with them.
And we knew that we needed to ask for an extraordinary sum of money, which is often difficult to get on a basic trip and fall case because people are just like, “Well, I can’t give that much money against a small motel owner and to a woman who tripped in a little hole.” Right?
So we knew that, if we didn’t show the jury how magnificent this fall was, how extraordinary the injury was and the financial losses that came from it, that we were going to fall short.
So the 77 exhibits was pictures of her life before the fall. It was really interesting. I represented a woman who was a motorhead, right?
And so in order to illustrate her love for vehicles to the jury, we had to go get all these pictures of her working on cars and in garages and at car shows. We had the receipt for the motel. She was at a car show, so she bought a placard for the car. She entered her car in the show.
We had all these things to show the jury how engaging she was with cars, and then we had her tax records, we had a certificate she got from her job for a job well done; all these things that you wouldn’t necessarily correlate to a trip and fall, but we had to illustrate her life beyond just the accident.
And we got a great result. We got a good verdict.
Yeah, and I think it paints the picture. It helps her build empathy with the jury. I love all those components. Those are one of the best parts, is to hear the story and hear your mindset of how you’re going to handle this case. And that’s wonderful. Thank you for that.
Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, that I think is the fun of being a trial lawyer is putting this puzzle together for this group of people that you don’t know before you even meet them.
So you don’t know their personalities and you have to go to the courthouse with this person’s life, this person’s story and narrative all put together for these strangers, and you hope that it works out.
But that’s the fun of it, because the rest of the stuff is kind of a grind, right?
Hmm-mm. Absolutely. Absolutely.
And feeling their joy and kind of celebrating with them, that’s got to be super rewarding.
Yeah. It is, yeah.
And I want to jump over. I’ve been talking a lot about TikTok and YouTube shorts and Instagram reels. And really the organic reach on these social media platforms is just huge right now.
And you’re absolutely killing it on TikTok. So you’ve got a ton of followers, over two million likes. And we also talk about the three elements of successful practices; know the law, do it and bring in business.
And let’s talk about that third piece. So how does social media fit into your strategy in regards to business development?
So I’m in New York State and we had a very sort of strict approach to COVID. And so one day, I’m sitting in my law practice, I’m watching the whole COVID situation unfold, and our governor basically says, “If you have a business, close it and go home” with an indefinite … No one knew when you were coming back.
And I said to myself, “If I come out of this thinking that the same marketing tools that we used before COVID will hold today, I’m going to die on the vine.”
So I started making videos. The goal initially was to give my clients and the community updates about the court system through video and how the court system was being affected by COVID.
My first video, I put on my law firm’s website, and one of my partners said something about it; not negative, but just said something about it. And then it hit me, the first video: don’t ever do it again on the firm’s website. So it’s mine. I pay for it, I own it, it’s my name.
Now that’s not to say I don’t ever mention the law firm, although I rarely do; it’s my brand, and then no one else can say anything about it. And if they do say something about it, then I can make a decision about how I want to handle it, either deal with it or walk away.
But it’s been a wild ride. It’s not easy. It’s time consuming. And part of my success, again, is actually delivering on the deliverable, which is the law practice and the settlements and the verdicts.
It’s hard. I find it to be expensive, because, at first I was trying to edit it myself and then I’m like, “Well, I’m not doing the law work.” So I hired and now I have multiple people. You’re juggling, you’re spending a lot of money.
And I believe in it for this reason; because when I go out to buy gas or to the farmer’s market or to the bank, people say, “Hey, I saw your video,” or, “Hey, I love your videos.”
And even though the likes or the engagement may not be on the videos, and sometimes that’s disheartening, I know it’s working, because when I go grab drinks with my buddies, they’re all busting my chops for making all these videos and the community sees them and I know it.
It’s a branding campaign for me. I do very little paid advertising and I’m going to start ramping that up now because I think that that is my shortcoming in the whole process. But for me, it’s a branding campaign. I believe in the mission. My mission is to educate people about personal injury law. I rarely talk about anything else; maybe a little bit of criminal law because I do that too, but I stay in my lane. I stay true to what I know and who I am.
Well, on the counter to that, I think the material that you put out is stronger. There’s more depth to it. Even watching it, I can tell that you’re really an expert on these topics and it’s not moonlighting on a random trend or something. It’s really focused in.
And I wanted to just break this down for the audience. You talked about a team you have, an editor. What’s the team composition look like to do this quality work?
My team has changed over time. At first, I hired my cousin who was very part-time, and we would struggle to get one video out a day. And we would do it in the 10 minutes between a deposition and a court conference, and it was totally chaotic.
And now I have a bigger team. Still everyone is part-time. I have two people that work directly for me and then I subcontract out certain work.
And that’s still evolving. I mean, I’m still trying to figure out what works well. You know, the platforms are constantly changing. We’re a little scattered, but we’re trying to tighten things up.
I spend a lot of money on it. I know a lot of people who do a very good job and don’t spend a lot of money on it, but I want to be a lawyer. That’s why I’m doing the social media, is to succeed as a lawyer. And so I feel like if I switch the two and spend too much time or too many resources or dollars on the social media, I will lose myself as a lawyer. And that’s not what I want. I want to be a lawyer first and I want a team that supports me. And so we’re moving toward that goal.
Yeah, and I think I saw video on TikTok about you being vulnerable, stating, “Hey, I just want to be a lawyer. I don’t want to do HR, I don’t want to do payroll.” And you mentioned some of these things on TikTok, and I was like, “That’s pretty great to see.” Because everyone talks about the benefits and the job and the glory, but you were being vulnerable talking about what you didn’t like, but what’s necessary.
This past week we were talking about, “Well, who am I as a brand?” And authenticity is one of those things, so we’ve been sharing some vulnerable moments.
And to all the young people out there who are thinking about going to law school, or who are in law school, thinking about how they want to spend their careers, I didn’t know this when I came back home to work in a small town and work in a small practice, but I’m an entrepreneur, and I didn’t know that until I reflected on it, looking backwards. And so it can be a challenge to juggle all of these things.
I don’t think being a trial lawyer is for the faint of heart, and I don’t think running a busy personal injury law practice with just five lawyers and 12 staff is for the faint of heart either. And then bring in the social media team, which is my team working in the home of the law practice; there’s a lot of personalities to juggle.
I happen to be sort of a Type A and handle stress well, and I thank God for that, because otherwise I’d either be six feet under or in a mental institution by now.
Yeah, I think that is part of the life of being entrepreneurs; juggling a lot of things at once and handling the stress.
The other thing … I just want to focus in on this question, and I don’t want to beat it with a dead horse here, or whatever the saying is, but you say you spend a lot of money on social media, and you mean on the production of the content, not necessarily the ads. You said, “Hey, maybe that’s in the future.”
I spend tens of thousands of dollars to pay people. So I have a woman who’s always sort of reaching out to people to see, where can I go in the community to interact with the community or to interact with other professionals and get a recording opportunity?
I went to my alma mater, Albany Law School, and I spoke in front of 30 people. So now I paid someone to make that happen; then I paid a camera person to follow me through the day from the car ride up to the law school, come back; then I paid somebody else to edit it, break that big thing down into pieces.
And so, yes, it’s primarily production. I literally at times will walk around my community with a camera person. And it takes a certain level of confidence and also disregard for other people’s space. You got to just go with it and believe, again, in what you’re doing.
But yeah, it’s a financial investment that I believe will pay off. I think it already has.
It’s difficult to track. So when you’re branding, it’s hard to say, “Well, that case right there came from my marketing efforts because that had a tracking telephone number on it and we can track that.” It’s more so that I knew that person 10 years ago. There’s no way in hell they would know I was a lawyer now unless they saw my video. Or they say to you, “Hey, I’ve seen your videos and I saw that one and that happened to me.” So I know, but I can’t prove it to anybody.
I think there are ways to do it more cost effectively. If I were a younger lawyer, for example, it’s just as important, if not more important, for that younger lawyer who doesn’t have a book of business. Maybe that individual can edit themselves on a phone.
I started doing this while managing a very busy, thriving law practice, and so I had to make a decision. It’s just like buying billboards or buying bus wraps or buying space in a newspaper or investing in a newsletter. It’s just the cost of doing business.
One of the things you mentioned, I just want to point out, is, and I think Gary Vee talks about this, and I’ve even heard Grant Cardone talk about this too, that they go to these events to speak on stage, not necessarily for the paid gig. They do it for the long form content that they can use forever.
Right, right. Yes.
So I’m big into Gary Vee’s, “Document, don’t create.” That’s not for everybody. And I tend to think, for me, that it underperforms in comparison to when you’re a talking head and giving a piece of legal advice, talking directly to the camera, but I don’t have time for it.
And so Gary Vee’s, “Document, don’t create” style is perfect for me. I pay somebody to sit in on meetings with me. I always ask the clients for their permission. My clients’ identities are never disclosed. You rarely hear their audio.
My clients love this. My clients follow me. They’re thrilled that their meeting is part of my objective. I’m a good person and I treat people with respect, and so people want to help me.
But I’m a “Document, don’t create” guy. I don’t have time to dedicate to the camera. It underperforms, but I’m trying to scale up. So if I do three a day, it’s the same thing as doing one successful thing a day.
And I also watch a lot of these other lawyers who talk about trends, talk about salient legal topics, talk about legal topics that are being discussed in the media, and I think to myself, “I’m doing better than you.”
You may have more likes, you may have more views or more followers; it just depends on how you measure success. My measurement of success is having a lot of work and make a lot of money and help a lot of local people.
And so I don’t really want to talk about Kim Kardashian’s divorce with Kanye, I don’t really want to talk about the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial, because that means I have to take time away from my practice or my family to go pay attention to something that means nothing to me.
And so I’ll take the hit on followers and views and just do my thing.
Yeah, and I think, again, that shows your expertise in the, “Document, don’t create”; “Hey, I’m going to this conference, I’m already speaking to this law school. I might as well just repurpose it and share for distribution and leverage.”
I mean, right now, on this podcast, with the camera that you and I are using, I’ve got two other cameras rolling. And so one long form is going to go to somebody to be produced and chopped down, and we’re going to have some stories up for today. I couldn’t possibly do that if I didn’t hire someone to do it for me.
And also, you got to pick people you like working with. So I pick people that I don’t mind having in my personal space. I pick people that are kind and work hard and work on their own. So it becomes fun.
And I think we sort of all work toward the common good. I joke that I am the common good, but the common good is to educate people and let them know that, if they experience a horrible accident, injury or death, I’m the guy that can help them.
Well, and I’m sure the team behind listening that’s recording right now is loving the kudos. So I’m sure they appreciate that too.
Are you spending the time to engage and reply to users’ comments?
Is it part of your team?
No, that’s all me.
Oh, that’s all you.
Yeah. And that’s another Gary Vee thing, right? So Gary Vee is big on, if somebody takes the time to post on your video, how dare you not respond to that?
So between the law work, the social media, and trying to be a good dad and husband, I have a threshold. There are times where I’m not as engaging as I should be, but I believe that my 70,000 plus followers on TikTok is largely due to my engagement on some of my early viral videos.
Yeah, that’s incredible.
I was just curious about that because sometimes people get these community managers and it’s ghost written in your voice, but maybe they don’t have the same expertise.
No, but you know what I do do, and I’m even rethinking this, is when I post a video, I don’t always write the blurb underneath there. And I want to get that back because it’s not my voice.
I have no idea whether or not that means anything in terms of the video’s performance, but I want that back. I want to start having my voice be the supporting sort of text that follows these videos. And so we’re working out a process for that too.
What’s next for John DeGasperis and where can people get in touch with you?
I have a lot to do in terms of personal injury law. I’m not done. I’ve got many years to go. I want to get a seven figure verdict. I don’t have that yet, so I got to go get that.
Possibly politics. You know, I’ve been thinking recently that I have maybe more to say than just my legal specialty. I think I have more knowledge than that.
And I also see the power of social media. So if you have 70,000 TikTok followers and growing, maybe when it’s time to run for office, you just say, “Go vote for me” on there, and there it is.
So possibly politics, but I’m focused right now on running my law practice. I have two partners who are at their point where they want to slow down and retire. So my other younger law partner and I have been sort of taking the reins, and we’re in a very competitive environment.
And competing is fun. It’s thought provoking. It forces you to innovate. I think as an entrepreneur, I still have a lot to learn and I want to learn it. So for the next five years at least, probably 10, I’ll be running a law practice.
When everything is content, you’ve got to document everything. Be sure to hire a team to capture each relevant moment that can be translated into long and short form content.
Because this team will be with you every moment, hire someone you actually love to be around at all times.
When making your documenting content, stay in your lane and stick to what you know.
I’d like to thank John DeGasperis from Basch & Keegan 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 Dreyer. 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.