4. Larry Nussbaum, Nussbaum Law Group Using Emotional Intelligence To Boost Your Firm & Client Experience

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Larry Nussbaum, president of Nussbaum Law Group, always knew he wanted to be a personal injury attorney… That, or an actor.

Larry has a natural talent for connecting with people, a skill that soon saw him bringing in enough clients at his first job to start his own practice. Since 2015, Nussbaum Law Group has gone from strength to strength, thanks in no small part to Larry’s high EQ and instinctive ability to empathize with others.

Transcript

Chris Dreyer

In law or any profession for that matter, the career you end up in, isn’t always the same as the one you set out to get. There are probably plenty of personal injury lawyers who started in corporate law. And there are probably plenty of environmental lawyers who thought they’d be criminal lawyers. Either way, sometimes the jobs, aren’t what we thought they’d be. Or we just find something that’s simply a better fit. But for a few, they know exactly where they want to be and how to get there, and achieving their dream job as a matter of when not if. And that is the exact position today’s guest found himself in, as he set out for law school.

Larry Nussbaum

Yeah, so I am a rare breed. And what I mean by that is that when I started my first day at law school – I went to Suffolk law in downtown Boston. I literally knew that I was going to be a personal injury lawyer. So how do I get there? And the answer is you have to go to law school, you got to pass the bar and all that kind of stuff. I wasn’t the greatest student, but I interned my entire time there. I spent my whole focus on working at law firms. So by the time I graduated, I personally would argue that I knew the business better than a lot of actual lawyers. I had the privilege of being able to hang around the owner of a pretty successful personal injury law firm. And he’s who I shadowed for those three years. So not only did I learn the law side of it, but I got to go to all the private meetings and I was the plus one on everything. And I learned a lot. And then after law school, I naturally went to work at that law firm.

Chris Dreyer

My guest today is Larry Nussbaum, president of an attorney at Nussbaum Law Group. Larry has earned a super lawyer rating and as a top 100 national trial lawyer to name just a couple of his many achievements. On today’s show, we’ll talk about why he wanted to become a personal injury lawyer, the importance of empathy to his firm, hiring and training the right people and how you can improve your practice and much more. 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. Larry’s determination saw him land his ideal role straight out of law school. He’d put in a ton of hard work to get there. And now that he’d gotten where he wanted to be, he wasn’t just going to let off the gas and coast through. His technical knowledge was growing. And so we’re as soft skills. And those soft skills were starting to gain additional clients for the firm, meaning that he was doing just as much lead-generation as he was lawyering.

Larry Nussbaum

There’s two types of lawyers is the trial lawyers and the guys in the background. And then there’s, rainmakers that bring in the cases, or there’s both. I like to think that I follow the category of both. I am very capable of handling the files. I get very involved in all of our files. So I was blessed from a very early start that I was a rainmaker. And so I was working at this law firm. I was bringing in at certain points, like 50% of the business, and this was not a small law firm. So eventually it became the point where I had my own law firm within a law firm. I had almost no choice in a good way. I had no choice, but to open up my own firm. It was a blessing and I’ll never take it away, but most people that go out on their own, they’re taking a huge chance, which I did, but they’re going out on their own. They might even just work from home. They might rent a small office. I was blessed to have so many files that I generated that were my own, but I had to go from zero to a hundred overnight and have a staff of me and two others day, one, and very quickly we had to add more and I had no money to support all this. We were a personal injury law firm with 250 files day one it’s been crazy ever since, but again, I look at it as a blessing.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, that’s impressive. So you’d nailed on the head – it’s a very rare to be that intentional. I went to college for business, and then I ended up with a history degree and now I’m a digital marketer. So you mentioned it. So I got to ask, so what was the, why, what was the why? How did you know?

Larry Nussbaum

So I, honest to God, and my mother still laughs at and me – my parents took education seriously. So I was going to a liberal arts school outside of Boston. And you get to that senior year and everybody’s, what are you going to do? What are you going to do? And I was scared. I had no real plan and I looked around and I basically said the two coolest jobs that I thought would be for me, but I thought were just killing it like Hollywood and, for some reason, personal injury attorneys. Not lawyers, personal injury attorneys. And I always still find that being a lawyer involves a lot of acting. It doesn’t mean that we’re fake and we’re not genuine, but I’m a big believer of that. The facts are the facts. And every lawyer has to deal with the same facts. So what separates the case? You go into trial, everybody’s got the same facts. Those are a given. So it’s the way you present them in it’s winning a jury. And some people don’t believe in that, but I still believe you can win a jury and that’s called acting. And so my mom, honestly, God, my mom basically was one of those where she’s no, you’re not going to LA for a couple of months to give it a shot. And she shot that dream down. So. There it was personal injury law. There I went. And again, all about, it’s all about telling a story. And again, that doesn’t mean we’re not genuine. Doesn’t mean that we’re liars it’s, but there’s a way is a way to tell a story. And it’s not as easy as some people think.

Chris Dreyer

I’ve talked to you, Larry, one other time before this interview and like instantly we connect and there’s like empathy, EQ whatever you call it. This is a huge key. Is that something that you just inherently had, like empathy and EQ like could connect?

Larry Nussbaum

Everything I do, everybody, I work with. All our clients I have a personal relationship with, and again, it’s one of those things where I would never change it. And, um, I feel blessed to be that way. But again, there are times where like, I’ll turn away a case and I’ll look at my phone at the end of it. And 20 minutes in and lawyers will look at me like you just wasted 20 minutes on a case that you knew you were turning away, 30 seconds in. And they really, it doesn’t mean they’re not good at what they do. I just, I’m a social person. This is how this is. How did I get these cases? How was I a rainmaker? It was all this, I go into a restaurant and without a hesitation. I don’t care who’s got a billboard up, that server that served on me is going to call me before they call the billboard.

Chris Dreyer

Wow. That’s so rare. And yeah, I get it. My next question, when you started the firm and you’ve got a hundred case files and you care. How difficult, like how does that process go to hand it off to someone to delegate it, to make sure it’s their baby now?

Larry Nussbaum

So again, I’m almost five years in. Still, the hardest thing that I deal with on a daily basis is delegation.  Talk to some of the most foremost experts in the field on this. This is how you scale. This is how you grow. And the answer is you have to let go of certain things and I’ve been unable to do that. I, so to answer your question, is I come in on the weekends when nobody’s here and I’m on the, on my hands and knees looking at files, writing notes to myself about who I got to deal with on Monday because I’m very involved at some would say too involved, but I still fight that if I’m losing some profits because I do too much work or I’m too involved then again, I guess that’s not a bad flaw to have. But I’m trying to find a little bit of a happy medium. And again, on that same note, it’s extremely important to hire the right people.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah, absolutely.

Larry Nussbaum

Where people are an extension of you. And again, I think a lot of times I was listening to a story the other day that the guy had somebody who really wanted to hire, but he went with someone over $10,000 discrepancy and the statistics will show you me and you would’ve made that 10,000 back over the course of a year. You spread that out over biweekly paychecks, you’re fighting over 700 bucks. If the employee was really that good, they should make you more money. So no brainer. And that’s hard for us business owners, but you hire the right people. They should pay for themselves and make you money.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more Larry, for one thing, one thing I heard you say, and I want to ask about this because this kind of relates to me too, is; when I was looking at scale, our agency. It was, Hey, do I productize things and scale by volume? Do I make all these standard operating procedures and less ability to iterate or do I take a lot less and only work with the elite? So it keeps it closer to me because I feel very similar to you. So where I’m going with this is, has that affected, like your case selection criteria? Is some PI attorneys will take the soft tissue. How’s that affected your business in that regard?

Larry Nussbaum

I love all my cases more than most. I’ve been practicing law now for about nine years. Were there cases I took my first year that I would never take now? Yes. I mean, if I could find a way to make a dollar out of a case, even if I had to put more hours in than it was worth and try to find a way to get the insurance company, give me 1500 bucks. There are some cases now that again, I would not take, but those are still few and far in between. I am very aggressive on the cases we take. I understand the scaling model. I have a lot of friends that only handle these catastrophic cases. I have a little different take on it. I find it hard to be like yes, to the easy cases and no to the hard cases. What are you paying me for? Can I get more money on your file and do I know, do I know how to work the file better than the layperson that can handle the case on their own? Yes. But what are you paying me for? If I only take the easy layups? Right? So I pride myself in taking the hard cases and believe it or not, some of the shittiest cases that I’ve ever taken in have had the biggest settlements. And I don’t know why I still to this day, don’t know why. You get the right insurance company – hey, my insured is self-insured up to 5 million. They want this over in a week. We’ll give you a hundred grand. You have to sign right now. You’re giving me a hundred grand and I thought you were going to fight me to the death on this case. And that’s like a true story right there. That was a business choice. They made, it was still not a good case, but so I still take a lot of stuff. I don’t, I have a hard time taking the easy stuff or turning away the bad stuff. And then I’m also a big believer that, that your best referrals or source is always going to be your current clients and your prior clients. And so I’ve had many of cases where somebody comes to me and I’m like, why didn’t it this prior, they went to me third? And nobody would take the case. And I’m like, I’m looking. And I’m like, why didn’t they take it to them I’m thinking, all right, they’re thinking that. We settled this case for $3,000, the fees a thousand, they must be so rich or so particular. That’s just not worth it to them, but there’s no issue with the file. So I worked my ass off on the file. Probably even lose money on the file. But now that person’s referred me, their mother that’s just to their brother. Somebody had a bad injury in the family, so there was a big hit. So again, I try to help as many people. I try to grow my network as large as I can. I do more than I should probably for free, but again, I truthfully believe in karma and then it will all come back.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. I love that long-term client value. That one person sends you a good case down the road. I’d also say that. You’re pretty rare, right? No one, not many attorneys have your trial experience. So when you go to court all the time, but you’re going to have the opportunity to get a settlement like that a hundred K because you’re willing to fight it to the death where some people wouldn’t.

Larry Nussbaum

Correct. There is an art too. You have to keep the insurance honest. If they just think that you’ll take their first offer and I’ve heard stories, “hey, the lawyer just took the first offer” because they’re worried about making payroll that week. You never want, and again – I pride ourselves on that – you never want to make any decision on a file based on your own fee on that. You shouldn’t have to be that reliable and believe me, there are times where it would be nice to. Hey man, I could use that money. But you can’t sell the clients short and you have to keep the insurance companies honest. And again, it’s one of those things where I’ll say again, I’m blessed. I have a relationship with the insurance company where again, once they know who, what I am and what I’m about and I’m fair. Listen, do I settle cases for three grand? You’d better believe I do, but I promise you that I also believe that $3,000 is every penny that case is worth. Do I wish the case was worth more? Yes, but that’s not me giving up. That’s me getting every last dollar. So I think the insurance companies value the lawyer that calls it as it is. You can’t try to make a million-dollar case. Out of every case. I don’t talk to the supervisor on every case. It was like the boy who cried Wolf. If you save them for the right moments, they’ll take you seriously. It’s a tough business out there.

Chris Dreyer

Larry made some excellent points about the importance of empathy in gaining referrals and how his own firm has had to adapt as operations have scaled. He also spoke a bit about building the right team. So I wanted to find out more on how he finds the best attorneys and teaches them the ropes at Nussbaum Law.

Larry Nussbaum

So we adapt as we’ve grown and I’ve matured as I’ve had experience, but I’ll at least talk to you about how we do it now. And we’ve certainly changed and learned a lot about the hiring process. I now at this point have basically a running ad. I believe you can find an all-star and they’re available. You got to take them. Even if you weren’t planning on hiring. They’re that hard to find. And again, the other hard thing is that for small companies you’re trying to hire someone that can do it as well as you can do it. And like I said, that’s true about a lot of businesses, right? You have, you have enough clients now, Chris, would, you need to hire people to do exactly what you know, how to do. Most likely even the really good ones probably can’t do what you do as well as you do. So that’s been something rarely hard for me to adjust to. So that affects the hiring process as well. I’m looking at these people, I’m like, can you do what I do? Can you replace me? I’ve found that it’s very hard to find an all-star out there. So yeah, we follow the model now that I’m always looking. And if somebody is that good, I will take them. And again, I shouldn’t admit it. I will overpay for them to a certain point. Like the value they bring in resumes mean almost nothing to me. I’m looking for – I’ve found I will take hard raw work and a good personality over any education I’ve ever seen.

Chris Dreyer

What are some of the things that like to take your knowledge and transfer that skill set – are you like passing down the books you’re reading? Do they have coaches? Like what’s going on with the mentorship there?

Larry Nussbaum

Man, I do things a little bit differently. So it’s a, it’s an organized, madhouse in my office and we are, I’m a hundred percent go all the time. I’m very involved. So if somebody comes to me with a problem, I’m used to saying, “Oh wow it took me 10 seconds to solve it. Let’s keep it moving” Si is “hell no, figure it out. What would you do?” You know, and again, talk it through. So I’ve been trying to implement that. It’s only been about two weeks, but I’m a bit, I’m a big problem solver. I’ve learned that, but haven’t done as good a job as I want to step back and let people make their own decisions. And again, sometimes that means you got to fall a little bit, but if you get back up, you’re fine. When I’ve been hesitant to let people fall. So I step in and Si told me that’s the wrong way to handle it. So I’m working on it. But other than that, I’m a big believer. Like I said, if you have questions, come to me. Other than that, I throw you right into the dungeon, come in and watch for a day or two, and then go do it. Something that I’ve seen with new layers. So this, you just graduated and we get some young people in, you just graduated law school. It’s a great accomplishment. Again, this is no offense to the insurance company, but again, a lot of them are right out of college now going to – listen – I didn’t go into law school makes me no better than anybody. But this insurance adjuster has been working there for 20 years. And the lawyer “Hi, uh… How? Yeah… My client…” I’m like…

Chris Dreyer

Smelling blood in the water.

Larry Nussbaum

No, don’t be afraid. You just got a law degree. You’re representing the client. You’re the lawyer. They’re a representative of the insurance company. Go get her. And so I find, initially, it’s really funny people that have great personalities and are loud outside of the office –  they’re intimidated at first by “you know, this woman’s been at the insurance company for 20 years” and they find that lawyers are intimidated initially. So yeah, I try to get them right in there and let them deal with clients. Around Christmas time, we get an extra amount of calls from current clients. When’s my case settling? How can I get some money now? We’re starting to see that right now. And I always try to explain to my employees, keep in mind who we’re dealing with. Can it become a little bit much sometimes? Yes. Are these people in need in your you’re their only hope is that why they’re really calling us? Yes. So again, that’s where again, I come in and say, listen, it can’t just be about handling the file. This there’s a reason they’re calling us. They have no one else to turn to. Now again, unfortunately, I explain to certain people like you just got in an accident two weeks ago. I’m not a miracle worker. I wish I could do something for you, but your case is open and, you know, you can get a loan on your case. Here’s the pros and cons. I try to help somebody as much as I can. The clients aggressive, but that’s because we’re their last call.

Chris Dreyer

Scaling your practice, the importance of empathy, developing a great team. Larry was full of great insights on how to grow a successful law firm. So for my last question, I wanted to know what advice he had for attorneys either starting out in their career or going it alone with their own firm.

Larry Nussbaum

So for younger attorneys go out into your local neighborhoods, go out. Listen, I get tired. There are times I don’t want to be out. People think people look at my lifestyle sometimes. Oh, that looks like fun. It’s tiring. I’m not getting any younger, but I used to find myself I was going to all these networking events, fundraisers, and I still do those. What I like to do is I like to do what I want to do still, but I get interactive. So if I go to a restaurant, sometimes they don’t enjoy it, but I’m talking up the waiter like they’ve never been talked up. I’m sitting at a bar for lunch, not drinking or whatever and I’m talking to the, I become friends with these people. The doorman at the local hotel, where I go for meetings, the valet guy, because I can’t find parking in Boston, which is crazy. The meter maid who chases me around. I want to be out there. And again, I think too many people rely on these networks. So I go to a networking event and I remember I’m like, wow, I’m at a networking event with a bunch of personal injury attorneys to do exactly what I do. Obviously you’ve got to do good work, you got to do the right thing for the client, but, regardless of what field you’re in, but especially the person injury – go out. Volunteer. I used to volunteer coach. I loved sports. I wanted to get back in. It was also a fun way to get back in shape. I used to run the sprints and stuff, but man, you want to talk from a business perspective? All these little kids, parents, they love me. I had cases upon cases like I wouldn’t imagine. And again, I pick where I go. I didn’t go to the. The privileged neighborhood. I went to the underprivileged neighborhood and I’d buy them pizza after the game and to them, that was the greatest thing ever. They could get pizza once a month. Um, go out, get to meet people, get to know people, genuinely be interested in what they have to say.

Chris Dreyer

Its incredible, to hear how Larry has been able to utilize something as simple as empathy. Not only does it allow him to secure those all-important referrals, but it drives him to get great results for his clients. And, best of all, that philosophy doesn’t stop with just him. It’s also instilled in his team and in his face firm’s culture. You’ve been listening to The rankings podcast. I’m Chris Dreyer, a huge thank you to today’s guest, Larry Nussbaum 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. What do you think are some other soft skills essential to running a law practice? Drop us a review and share your thoughts. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.

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