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Building a Successful Law Firm: Darl Champion’s Journey and Insights on Growth, Marketing, and Culture

Welcome to another episode of The Founding Partner Podcast, where we explore the stories and insights of successful lawyers and their journey in the legal industry. This week, we are thrilled to have Darl Champion, an accomplished personal injury lawyer based in Atlanta, with us. Champion is not only known for his expertise in the courtroom but also for his active presence on social media and his candid opinions on various legal matters.

**Starting From Scratch**

Champion’s story is a fascinating one, beginning with his graduation from law school in 2007 and his subsequent clerkship with a federal judge. He always knew he wanted to start his own firm and be a plaintiff’s attorney. However, the road to founding his own practice wasn’t straightforward. Champion initially took a job at a defense firm to pay the bills but quickly realized that billable hours were not his cup of tea. This realization led him to a plaintiff’s firm, where he honed his skills before taking the leap to start his own firm in 2014.

**Growing the Firm**

Fast forward to today, and Champion’s firm is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, having grown from a one-man show to an impressive team of around 25 employees, including attorneys, paralegals, a marketing team, and more. Champion emphasizes the importance of support staff, acknowledging that a successful law firm isn’t just about the attorneys but also about the team that backs them up.

**Client Service Over Marketing**

One of the key takeaways from Champion’s experience is his belief in prioritizing service delivery over aggressive marketing. He stresses the importance of providing excellent service and achieving great results for clients, which in turn naturally assists with marketing through word-of-mouth and positive reviews. Champion’s approach is a testament to the idea that focusing on the quality of work can be more beneficial than pouring resources into advertising.

**Building the Team**

When it comes to building a team, Champion shares his learnings from years of hiring and managing staff. He highlights the significance of culture fit and personality over merely looking at a resume. Champion has learned that employees who are passionate and fit well within the firm’s culture are the ones who contribute to its success and longevity.

**The Mighty Debate and Other Industry Issues**

Champion also touches on some of the hot topics within the personal injury space, including his stance against the controversial business model of a company called Mighty. He argues for the importance of experience and trial readiness in personal injury law, something that Mighty’s model seemed to undermine. Additionally, Champion discusses the issue of ‘runners’ in Georgia, advocating for more stringent enforcement against unethical solicitation practices.

**Looking Ahead**

As for the future, Champion doesn’t have specific revenue or size goals for his firm. His vision is to continue delivering exceptional service and results for his clients. He advises those starting their own firms to have a clear understanding of why they want to start their practice and to have both short-term survival strategies and long-term goals.

**A Champion’s Advice**

For anyone considering starting their own firm, Champion’s advice is to be intentional, show up every day, and work towards the invisible gains that will eventually pay off. His journey is a reminder that success in law isn’t just about winning cases but also about building relationships, maintaining a strong team, and staying true to your values.

If you’ve been inspired by Darl Champion’s story and want to hear more about his journey, strategies, and insights into the legal industry, be sure to listen to this episode of The Founding Partner Podcast. His candid conversation with Jonathan Hawkins is not only enlightening but also a testament to what can be achieved with determination, a client-focused approach, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. Tune in now to learn from one of Atlanta’s finest injury lawyers.

[00:00:00] Darl Champion: I think sometimes there’s a lot of people when they start their own law firm, they tend to try to be very selective, which, you know, you can do if you’ve already made a name for yourself and you’re a heavy hitter somewhere and you’re just leaving that firm. But when you’re, I mean, I was 31, 32 years old.

[00:00:18] Darl Champion: I’d only been practicing plaintiff’s law for like four or five years. Like, Nobody was like, Oh, I’m going to just send all this clear liability, wrongful death case, you know, with unlimited damages and unlimited insurance. You got to work up to that. And so I took a lot of not so great cases that I may not take right now.

[00:00:37] Darl Champion: But I took it because I thought, you know what? I don’t have anything else to do.

[00:00:42] ​[00:01:00]

[00:01:11] Jonathan Hawkins: Welcome to Founding Partners Podcast. I’m Jonathan Hawkins, your host, and we’ve got a special guest this week. We’ve got Darrell Champion, who is a personal injury lawyer here in the Atlanta area. He’s pretty active on social media and has some pretty strong opinions about certain things. And so we’re going to dive into that.

[00:01:32] Jonathan Hawkins: Hopefully he shares that with us today. So, So, Darrell, why don’t you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about you, your firm, where you are, how many attorneys, staff, so we get a sense for how big it is.

[00:01:44] Darl Champion: Yeah. So I graduated from law school in 2007, went to Mercer, spent two years clerking for a federal judge down there, great experience, and then moved to Atlanta knew I wanted to be a plaintiff’s attorney, which we’ll get to and kind of how I started my firm, [00:02:00] but knew I wanted to be a plaintiff’s attorney, knew one day I would want to have my own law firm.

[00:02:04] Darl Champion: But yeah, I took a job at a defense firm because you got to pay the bills when you’re. So I lasted six months before I got tired of billable hours and left to go work at a plaintiff’s firm. So from there, I went to Warshower was Warshower law group at the time. Now it’s Warshower Woodward and Atkins worked there for about four years.

[00:02:23] Darl Champion: I did some products, liability premises, trucking, med mal. And started my own firm in 2014. So actually in about two weeks, we’ll be celebrating our 10 year anniversary and started with just me, no employees. And now I’ve got right at about 25 employees. I say right at about, because there’s some people coming and going, like I’ve got one legal assistant that’s going to be starting law school soon.

[00:02:50] Darl Champion: I’ve got a new attorney starting, just had one leave. So, you know, in that 25 ballpark is where we’re at. We’ve [00:03:00] got a legal nurse consultant. We’ve got a marketing team. I have three people on my marketing team, including one person who just does video and editing a video which can actually come in handy too.

[00:03:09] Darl Champion: When you’re getting ready for trial. Like I am we’ve got, I’ve got an operations manager, I’ve got. A firm administrator who also goes, is essentially like a chief operating officer six attorneys, seven, including myself seven paralegals, handful of legal assistants. So that’s the one thing that I have learned is that you cannot have a law firm with just attorneys.

[00:03:34] Darl Champion: The support staff are just as, if not more important.

[00:03:37] Jonathan Hawkins: That’s right. And you mentioned people coming and going. We’re going to dive into that, you know, the joys of owning a business and people coming and going. So, but let’s go back. So let’s. Go back to the beginning. You said you knew you always wanted to start your firm. What was it?

[00:03:52] Jonathan Hawkins: What was the impetus? What finally made you go do it? You’re like, all right, I’ve always wanted to do it. And then one day you said, all right, [00:04:00] today’s the day. What was it?

[00:04:03] Darl Champion: So I had become, I was a partner at my old firm. I had been a partner for about a year. I was a, what I would refer to as like a non equity partner. And I would have probably left sooner had it not been for that. But you know, you make partner and you’re like, Oh yeah, I’m partner. I need to enjoy this for a little while.

[00:04:19] Darl Champion: But you know, it really got to the point where I was starting to generate enough of my own cases. I was looking at kind of the financial side of things. We had, I think our daughter was close to two years old at the time and I just kind of took stock of everything. I’m like, if I don’t do this now, I’m probably never going to do it.

[00:04:35] Darl Champion: And I had one case I had originated and it was like a clear liability, significant damages case. I knew it was going to be a policy limits case. And I said, you know what? Yeah. Now would be a great time for me to take that case to leave because I originated that case. Clients, you know, were referred to me directly and use that money is kind of a nest egg to start my firm.

[00:04:58] Darl Champion: And it wasn’t like a [00:05:00] significant amount of money. I mean, I want to say the fee ended up being like 60 or 70, 000. But when you’re looking at like, Hey, I like that can fund me for a long period of time. I did not have a lot of money in the bank. I think I had like 15 in the bank. I think I took out a loan on my car.

[00:05:18] Darl Champion: My car was paid off. So I think I took out like a loan on that to get some extra cash. I got a credit line, which I did not realize that I could get a credit line. Like, who would lend me money? Like, why would you do that? So I got a credit line, like 75, 000 credit line to help with case expenses and that sort of thing.

[00:05:36] Darl Champion: And You know, really I want to say I made the decision in like April, 2014, like mid April. And then by like June one, I was up and running.

[00:05:45] Jonathan Hawkins: Nice. Okay. So you had a two year old daughter. You had some, but not much in terms of savings. You’re able to get. You know, some loans lined up. Did you have any, you know, law school debt or any other debt that you had to worry about paying the bills on?[00:06:00]

[00:06:01] Darl Champion: Yeah. I mean, mortgage on the house student loan debt. You know, probably there might’ve been a little bit of credit card debt. I want to say, I don’t think I had any, but it was really just, what am I going to do to pay my living expenses and how am I going to support my family over the next.

[00:06:17] Darl Champion: You know, however long it takes to start getting more cases in the door. And, you know, it’s, you do kind of the rough calculation and it’s like, you know, this can keep me afloat for a little while. And I just hope that other people will hire me and money will come in the door and I won’t have to go look for a job somewhere else.

[00:06:36] Darl Champion: But that was I think I even called my mom and dad and was like, if this doesn’t work out, I’m moving back in with you guys. No,

[00:06:44] Jonathan Hawkins: So, okay. So you had one case. Did you, did that resolve before you left and you use that as seed capital or you took it with you realizing it would probably

[00:06:52] Darl Champion: so that case and I want to say I’d originated like three or four others that I took with me, but they were not that [00:07:00] size. I mean, they were like much, much smaller. And then when I went to go talk to you know, my, my boss at the time and say, Hey, look, I’m going to start my own firm. I had a plan for the cases.

[00:07:10] Darl Champion: This is what I’d like to take. This is what I would propose on the fee splits. And they were like, well, Hey, you know, if you want to take these other, these five or so additional cases that you’re, that you’ve just been working on, they didn’t really fit their criteria. I mean, they were smaller soft tissue car at cases that wasn’t really their business model.

[00:07:27] Darl Champion: So I ended up actually with like 10 cases. And so from the time I made the decision to leave until the time I left, none of the cases resolved. But within, you know, a few months of leaving, that’s when cases started resolving, money started coming in the door. You know, one of the things that I did was I was like, man, I gotta join stuff.

[00:07:45] Darl Champion: I gotta like get out and network a lot more with non lawyers. So I joined a rotary club. I joined Smyrna Rotary Club. I was in that for a few years. I joined a BNI was a business networking international. I think it stands for, I joined one of those groups. I was in it for a year or two. And I [00:08:00] just, I did as much as I could to try to just meet people because when that sort of safety net’s gone and you’re like, man I’m burning all the ships.

[00:08:10] Darl Champion: I’ve got to make this work. It causes you to do things that when you’re comfortable, you wouldn’t otherwise do.

[00:08:17] Jonathan Hawkins: I’ll tell you for sure. When you got to pay the bills, you’re going to do what it takes. So, so you started going out there, you know, you know, you’re How long did it take for those efforts to start generating cases? I mean, and what did you find early on were the more effective marketing things you were doing?

[00:08:35] Darl Champion: So I can honestly say I never got a single case from the Rotary club.

[00:08:39] Jonathan Hawkins: I was going to

[00:08:39] Jonathan Hawkins: ask, I was going to ask. Yeah.

[00:08:41] Darl Champion: man. I mean, I think I was in it for like three years. I don’t know if people in Rotary just aren’t very litigious or what, but. Maybe they just don’t get heard as often. So, no I didn’t get a single case from that. The BNI group was interesting.

[00:08:53] Darl Champion: So I’ll, I want to tell a little story about that. That’ll kind of jump from then to the future or not the [00:09:00] future, but from then until like 2020 timeframe. So I want to come back to that. But at least initially what worked for me was really just cultivating relationships with other lawyers. So, you know, there were certainly attorneys that I knew that that had referred cases to my old firm that knew me from working on their cases.

[00:09:20] Darl Champion: And so there were cases that they needed to refer out. They wanted to help me. And that’s, you know, a huge credit to them. I found very supportive people that started referring me cases and trusting me with them. Honestly, some of the initial ones are not the greatest. I think being willing to say yes helped a lot.

[00:09:38] Darl Champion: I think sometimes there’s a lot of people when they start their own law firm, they tend to try to be very selective, which, you know, you can do if you’ve already made a name for yourself and you’re a heavy hitter somewhere and you’re just leaving that firm. But when you’re, I mean, I was 31, 32 years old.

[00:09:57] Darl Champion: I’d only been practicing plaintiff’s law [00:10:00] for like four or five years. Like, Nobody was like, Oh, I’m going to just send all this clear liability, wrongful death case, you know, with unlimited damages and unlimited insurance. You got to work up to that. And so I took a lot of not so great cases that I may not take right now.

[00:10:16] Darl Champion: But I took it because I thought, you know what? I don’t have anything else to do. You know, I don’t want to just be in my office twiddling my thumbs. But it allowed me to kind of get my foot in the door with a lot of places about a year into starting my firm I started getting referrals from an advertising firm here in atlanta That is a higher volume practice and they do they referred a lot of their litigation work out.

[00:10:41] Darl Champion: I handled that I worked I did that for several years before sort of moving away from being Sort of overly dependent on those litigation referrals and trying to become more self sufficient. But I did want to tell a story about B and I. So B and I, if anybody listening has ever been to a B and I meeting, it’s you got to get up.

[00:10:59] Darl Champion: Most [00:11:00] of them meet at like 7 a. m. You’re getting up at the crack of dawn. You got to be there every single week. You got to do your little talk. And it’s just very time consuming. And so I’m like looking around, all these people are passing business to each other because their industry’s fit. You’ve got like a realtor, a contractor, a plumber, like they just kind of work together.

[00:11:19] Darl Champion: Well, there was no natural referral partner for a personal injury lawyer. It was just. Hey, if this thing happens and it just so happens somebody needs a personal injury lawyer, we’ll refer you. But after about four or five months into it, one of the members approached me at the end of the meeting and said, Hey, my daughter, and his daughter was an adult.

[00:11:38] Darl Champion: She was like in her late twenties at the time. My daughter’s had this lawyer for a dental malpractice case. She hasn’t heard from him in like four or five years. And so I’m like, that sounds strange. And instantly I’m thinking the five year rule has probably been dismissed because no order has been entered.

[00:11:55] Darl Champion: But if you haven’t heard from your lawyer in three or four, five years, like something bad’s probably happened. So I was like, [00:12:00] all right, I’ll look into it. So I look into it. I end up you know, pursuing a case for them, got them a great result. Ended up being sort of the family’s attorney handled a few soft tissues, smaller car wreck cases for them.

[00:12:13] Darl Champion: And they referred me to a few other people. Fast forward to 2019, that client with the legal malpractice case was leaving a bar in, I want to say it was in Calhoun, Georgia, and she got T boned by a drunk driver, had to be life flighted to Grady, NICU, like multiple broken bones, head to toe, multiple surgeries, just astronomical damages.

[00:12:34] Darl Champion: And I’m thinking, you know, this is going to be a low limits case. It was like a five year old F 150 that hit her. Turns out it was a company vehicle for a company out of Ohio, and they had 10 million in insurance. And I got every dollar of insurance. I got insurance. I got money from a dram shop case.

[00:12:53] Darl Champion: So all in all, I think we recovered like 11. 2 million in that case. That came [00:13:00] from a B& I group. Now, here’s the thing that is not a repeatable B and I to me is not a repeatable source of business. That was just totally a fluke, but I do think it shows the importance of being open to new cases. I didn’t start my firm to be like a legal malpractice lawyer.

[00:13:19] Darl Champion: But by taking that case and working on others with them, I developed that relationship with the family and got a huge case from it.

[00:13:27] Jonathan Hawkins: So that’s interesting. I did a B& I group years ago and you know, I just remember a similar Thoughts you had, you know, it’s all these people, like, I remember in mine, there was somebody who sold prepaid legal services, and I was thinking, you know, it was just sort of, there was cleaning person and I was just like, yeah this is not gonna be much for what I did at the time. And so, but it was a good experience. You get out there, you just meet people. I mean, you just get, you got to practice it anyway, but okay. So earlier you’re getting out and meeting people. I’m sure you still do that now. [00:14:00] What sorts of things do you do for marketing nowadays? Are you moved to the internet or are you doing ads or what kind of stuff are

[00:14:07] Darl Champion: Yeah, we do a ton of stuff, but we don’t do any of your traditional media like TV, radio billboards. We don’t really spend a lot on paid ads online. I found there, there’s just so expensive. We really focus on organic SEO. So we have a great SEO company that we work with and just trying to get cases organically through that.

[00:14:28] Darl Champion: We also have a fair number of client referrals. So we market to our clients. We do a monthly mail newsletter. I’m a big Ben Glass fan. I read Ben Glass’s books even before, I want to say even before I went to the plaintiff side, cause I knew like one day I’m starting a firm and he was just like speaking to me when I’m reading his books.

[00:14:47] Darl Champion: And. That was one of the first things I did was started a monthly mail newsletter to my clients. And just building that list and cultivating that list and adding people to that list. And so we also you know, have a lot of our clients [00:15:00] follow us on social media so they can see the types of cases we handle stay top of mind.

[00:15:04] Darl Champion: We do email marketing with lawyers. You know, the LinkedIn, I think providing informational content about legal updates and things like that is good. I’ve got season tickets to every Atlanta sports team. So that is a big source for me of taking other lawyers to events, you know, concerts, sporting events, whatever, and just building those relationships.

[00:15:26] Darl Champion: That’s sort of like our whole marketing ecosystem in a nutshell. It’s not a lot of lead generation type stuff. It’s more of a kind of longterm brand building brand awareness, that type of stuff and relationships.

[00:15:42] Jonathan Hawkins: Let’s talk a print newsletter. So yeah, so I’m in a great legal marketing now. So, I know Ben and I know they’re big on that. And it’s on my list of things to do. I just haven’t done it yet. So let me ask, how many of those do you send out a month? Do you

[00:15:56] Darl Champion: Gosh, I would have to, it’s gotta be [00:16:00] over a thousand cause we have over a thousand former

[00:16:02] Jonathan Hawkins: I said, so you only send it to former clients. Do you send them to attorneys and

[00:16:06] Darl Champion: Well, current and former clients, you know, we may have some attorneys on our list. I think it’s primarily focused on current and former clients. You know, I think the and by the way, I mean, For anybody listening, am I allowed to like mention a vendor on here?

[00:16:21] Jonathan Hawkins: If you want to, sure.

[00:16:22] Darl Champion: Okay. So newsletter pros, we use them for a brief period of time.

[00:16:27] Darl Champion: They were somebody that I want to say I found them through great legal marketing, but we use them to create the monthly newsletter for a period of time. And that was helpful. Now we do it in house in terms of the writing and the content and all that. But there was a time where we outsourced that.

[00:16:42] Darl Champion: So for anybody who wants to do one, who doesn’t have the time to do it, I think they did great work. They interview you like once a month. For like 20 minutes, they ask you questions and then they give you this newsletter that actually sounds like you wrote it. Like they are able to take the information you provide and put it in your own voice.

[00:16:59] Darl Champion: [00:17:00] So, there are options,

[00:17:01] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, you know, part of it’s too it’s just you know, there’s different levels, you know, you’ve got the really the Cadillac version and the, maybe the lower version, the in house version, but then it’s like, you know, I could come up with probably a thousand names more, you know, more than that in a minute. Now I was talking to I don’t know if you know, Marco Brown from LinkedIn he was on, he’s a family lawyer in Utah, I think he’s got the biggest. Family law practice. His podcast. He was on the podcast a couple weeks ago, and I think he said he sends his print newsletter to every attorney in Utah.

[00:17:34] Jonathan Hawkins: It’s like over 8, 000. I’m just like, wow. I don’t know.

[00:17:38] Jonathan Hawkins: That, yeah. So, so you could go big time with it, right?

[00:17:43] Darl Champion: yeah, you could. I’m not ready to go that big. I mean, not ready to spam all the lawyers in Georgia.

[00:17:49] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. he said they, they complain. He says, a lot of them complain. Like, why are you sending this to me? He’s like, I’m still going to send it to you.

[00:17:55] Darl Champion: on just getting cases.

[00:17:58] Jonathan Hawkins: All right. So, so we’ve talked a little [00:18:00] bit about marketing. I saw, I came across something, I think it was on LinkedIn. And you said that that you believe service delivery is more important than marketing. And I want to hear sort of what you mean by that.

[00:18:18] Darl Champion: And not actually focusing on the cases you already have. And doing a good job once you do get those cases. You know, I’m not going to name any names, but there’s firms in Atlanta where the attorney to staff ratio is just insane. Like there’s so many staff per attorney or in the attorneys have just hundreds and hundreds of cases that there’s no way they can adequately give their clients individual attention.

[00:18:42] Darl Champion: And so I think. Service delivery is important for several reasons. One, I think you’ve got a professional obligation to do it. I mean, that, that is what you sign up to as a lawyer. You’ve got all your obligations and the rules of professional conduct. You’ve also got moral obligations and ethical obligations, [00:19:00] professional obligations.

[00:19:01] Darl Champion: But then you’ve got the sort of benefit that comes from being really good at something and getting great results. And so if you get great results and provide great service, That helps a ton with marketing, but if you are terrible as a lawyer, you can be spending whatever on Google ads, but if you’ve got bad Google reviews, they may not hire you.

[00:19:24] Darl Champion: Or somebody else that gets referred to, you may go and look at your Google reviews and be like, this guy’s got like a 2. 5 star. Like why am I going to hire them? So that’s what I mean. Like service delivery is so important. And, That has to take priority over the marketing. The other thing that I see is a lot of lawyers get caught up in the chase where they’re like, let’s just get these cases in without any concept of how am I actually going to fill the leads.

[00:19:48] Darl Champion: How am I going to do the infrastructure? How am I going to build the infrastructure for intake to screen the leads? And then, you know, people aren’t, calls aren’t being answered. You have unhappy [00:20:00] potential clients who leave bad Google reviews, and it just creates this snowball effect where it can just really weigh down your whole practice.

[00:20:08] Darl Champion: So that, that’s what I mean when I talk about, you got to get the, you got to take care of. Your service delivery and your delivery of legal services before you even get into the marketing side of things

[00:20:21] Jonathan Hawkins: Well, your B& I story is sort of a exhibit A to that too. I mean, and

[00:20:28] Darl Champion: story that I always tell people is one I got that case by doing a great Job, but the corollary of that is who didn’t get that case, right? The person who didn’t get that case was the person who abandoned the client and do a great job. And so when you look at your clients as I see this a lot what is the value of this case to me, and then people don’t give it as much attention because they want to focus over here on the higher value cases.

[00:20:54] Darl Champion: They’re shooting themselves in the foot because when you look at it from a long term view, [00:21:00] again, started my firm, I was 32 years old. Hey, I might be doing this for 30 more years. I want to have people referring me. And so. When you do a great job, you’re going to get referrals.

[00:21:12] Jonathan Hawkins: you never know where they’re going to come from.

[00:21:14] Darl Champion: Never

[00:21:15] Jonathan Hawkins: and so, you know, on the service delivery to do that, you need good people. You need, it cannot just be you. So, I want to shift and talk a little bit about You know, hiring, attracting talent, that sort of thing. I know you talk a little bit about that as well. So, you know, just generally speaking, sort of what’s your attitude about bringing in good people? How do you do it? How do you find them? How do you screen them?

[00:21:42] Darl Champion: It’s a great question. So this is a story filled with mistakes over 10 years, because I used to be of the mindset, hire based off resume, you know, where, who did they work for? Oh, they worked for this great plaintiff’s attorney in Atlanta. They must be great. Not true. You [00:22:00] know, you’ve got to, and my current.

[00:22:02] Darl Champion: Philosophy on this is culture and fit are way more important than experience and technical skills, because a lot of things can be trained. But if you have somebody, they could be a superstar employee. From a result standpoint, but if they are poisoning the well and are not fitting within your overall culture, it’s going to be a problem and you see it more as you grow.

[00:22:29] Darl Champion: So if it’s just you and one person, well, yeah, Hey, they’re delivering great results. That’s fine. But when you start to grow and you need people to kind of sit in the right seat on the bus and do the right things But they want to go sit somewhere else and do something else and they’re off doing their own thing.

[00:22:45] Darl Champion: It creates problems. And so, I’m a big believer in that. And just looking at their personality. Are they driven? Are they motivated? Do they have grit? Are they willing to? Put in the time. Are they internally driven? Like, do they actually care? Or [00:23:00] do they view it just as a job where they’re going to make money.

[00:23:03] Darl Champion: And so where do I find people? So the number one, if somebody can solve the paralegal problem in the legal field, they will be a billionaire because everybody in every practice group I talked to, whether it’s plaintiff defense, big firm, whatever can’t find good paralegals, I hear it all the time. And I’ve run into that too, when we’ve had to go through you know, hiring spells, but I will tell you the one interesting thing that has happened from my LinkedIn post is I have people reach out to me.

[00:23:33] Darl Champion: People I didn’t even know that had been following my LinkedIn post in the background for a year or two. And I’m like, Hey, I really like your approach to things. I really like your way of doing business. I like the way, you know, you approach handling personal injury cases. If you have an opening, I’d love to come work for you.

[00:23:50] Darl Champion: We’ve hired several people like that, like really high performing a players. And. That I haven’t even had to put a job listing out sometimes

[00:23:59] Jonathan Hawkins: [00:24:00] That’s awesome. I have heard a similar story from a couple of other people, just, you know, people post on LinkedIn for different reasons. But recruiting sort of the way you just described it is in my mind, a really big reason if you’re looking to grow you just, you say, Hey, this is my philosophy.

[00:24:17] Jonathan Hawkins: This is the way we do things. And eventually you’ll sort of cultivate a following and you say people reach out to you, but you could probably, you drop something that says, Hey, we’re looking. And then boom, you’re going to get a ton of inquiries

[00:24:30] Darl Champion: yeah. No, and that was not my intended reason for ever posting like that I never thought that would happen never. And so it’s been it’s been a pleasant Side effect of it.

[00:24:41] ​

[00:24:54] Jonathan Hawkins: So, so you mentioned, you know, a lot of the attributes you want in your employees and the culture fit. [00:25:00] And so how do you, when you’re doing the interview and how do you figure that out how do you test to see if they sort of have those attributes?

[00:25:08] Darl Champion: So, it really depends on the position. So some interviews, I don’t even interview the person. They I have my staff, my operations director handle that or somebody else will do it. And I may come in and stop by and just introduce myself. But if it’s typically like a paralegal position or an attorney position, I’m definitely involved in that.

[00:25:31] Darl Champion: And a lot of that just comes from talking to them, just having a conversation. Who are they, you know, what are the things they like to do outside of the office? What are the things that motivate them? And I’ve, I don’t do like a personality test. I know there’s people out there that recommend that and, oh, we got to do this test and see how they fit in.

[00:25:49] Darl Champion: And maybe there’s some validity to that, but sometimes I just go with my gut reaction on it. And I kind of feel like the guy, you know, and dumb and dumber that scene where they’re like, we don’t pick up [00:26:00] hitchhikers, but I’m going to go with my gut on this one. Turns out to be the guy that is trying to kill them.

[00:26:05] Darl Champion: But yeah, I mean, definitely you have some misses, but I feel like I have honed that in more over the last few years by making a lot of mistakes. There’s definitely times where I interview people and I’m like, They say things or do things or have a way of carrying themselves. That reminds me of a bad experience I’ve had in the past.

[00:26:23] Darl Champion: And I’m like, that ain’t going to work. They remind me of that person. Not going to work, but you know, really it’s about do part of us, do they want to work here? Like, are they really wanting to be a part of our team and what we’re trying to do? And the people that have that attitude end up being great employees.

[00:26:40] Darl Champion: The people that are like, it’s just a paycheck. That’s where it becomes a problem.

[00:26:45] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, you know, hiring it, it is a very difficult thing, but again, if you want to grow, if you want to have good client service, it’s all about the people. So. You’ve found the person, they’ve come on your team. How do you keep them? How do you keep them from leaving?[00:27:00]

[00:27:00] Darl Champion: You know, that’s a great question. So people leave for a variety of reasons. You know, like I said, I’ve got a legal assistant who wants to go to law school. I had an attorney leave who after practicing law for a year and a half decided she didn’t really like practicing law. She wanted more of like an in house job with an insurance company doing like claims examining type work, adjusting work.

[00:27:18] Darl Champion: So those types of things you’re never going to prevent. I mean, that’s just going to happen. It’s the nature of the evolution of people throughout their lives. But, you know, I think one, having a good culture where people want to work, where people enjoy working together you know, certainly paying them well and ensuring that they’ve got good benefits.

[00:27:38] Darl Champion: Like we pay a hundred percent of our employees, health insurance. I like to think that I’ve. The, that we pay well from a salary standpoint, we have a bonus structure as well, we try to do events outside, you know, so I’ll invite people if we’ve got you know, last year I did a suite for the Braves game, invited everybody and their spouses doing it again this year, we’ve had dinners [00:28:00] occasionally where, Hey, let’s do a firm dinner and invite everybody.

[00:28:03] Darl Champion: Last year, so I have a suite at the Mercedes Benz stadium. Last year I had all my female employees, got them a party bus and sent them down to the first night of Beyonce. So trying to just have like fun events outside of the office. I had tickets to Taylor Swift too. So I had a few employees go to

[00:28:18] Jonathan Hawkins: oh man,

[00:28:19] Darl Champion: One of them is the one that actually left

[00:28:21] Jonathan Hawkins: hot ticket there. Hot

[00:28:23] Darl Champion: a lawyer. So that, that, that did not did not lead to her staying. But yeah, I really think it’s gotta be that. I mean, it’s gotta be they see a higher purpose than what they’re doing. They like the people they work with.

[00:28:35] Darl Champion: And they feel like they’ve are compensated well.

[00:28:39] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah. You know, I agree with all of that. And I think the other thing you said before you went into that is, is, you know, things happen, people are going to leave for different reasons. You can’t force somebody to stay forever. And it’s, I think part of it too, is you just gotta, um, Maybe not expect it, but not be surprised when it happens and be ready for it, you know, [00:29:00] because, you know, grow again.

[00:29:02] Darl Champion: When I first started my firm, I mean, I think this gets into the importance of having like a process and systems and having people that are there to implement them. So you don’t have to do everything. Like it was very painful when I started out and people left because then it meant I had to do a lot of stuff.

[00:29:16] Darl Champion: I had to take over the case. I had to do these things. Now it’s like, I’ve got other employees who can do that and who handle the case reassignments and do all that so that I can focus on what I need to focus on. Obviously some of that depends on your size. The smaller you are, the more you’re going to have to be hands on you know, in doing some of that when people leave, but you can definitely have processes in place to help mitigate that collateral damage.

[00:29:39] Jonathan Hawkins: right. So let’s talk about the other side of the coin is the underperformers though the cancers or whatever you want to call it, the people that, that you need to sort of get out of there. You know, I hear from a lot of lawyers it’s, you know, it’s. Not a fun conversation and maybe it’s not that they did something so egregious that you’re like you’re out today But it’s [00:30:00] just sort of this Everybody knows they need to go but the lawyers does not want to have that conversation.

[00:30:06] Jonathan Hawkins: So how do you approach that?

[00:30:09] Darl Champion: Yeah. So, the very first person I hired, I had to have this conversation pretty early on in my practice, cause I hired a paralegal off Craigslist for like 10 or 12 an hour, three weeks into my practice and she lasted three weeks. She was late the first day. She was already interviewing for other jobs.

[00:30:26] Darl Champion: She wasn’t getting work done. And the first time I did it, I was so nervous. I’m like, man, but you know, and I hate to say this, but each time you do it, it becomes easier. Because you realize the importance of what you’re doing for the business as a whole. You know, I think a couple of things to a couple of points to make one is nobody likes firing people, but you need, you shouldn’t, unless you’re like a sociopath, right?

[00:30:51] Darl Champion: I mean, but ultimately what you’ve got to get over is it’s not fair to your high performers to have an underperformer, because here’s what [00:31:00] happens when you have an underperformer. Who’s going to get dumped on? All the work’s going to get assigned to the great employee who’s getting stuff done. The reward for great work is more work.

[00:31:11] Darl Champion: And so that person is going to get resentful. They’re going to get burnout. And so you’ve got to look at it from that standpoint of it’s really not fair to everybody else to have dead weight. And the smaller you are, the more painful it is to have dead weight. Like if you’re a five person firm as a whole, and you’ve got one person that’s not pulling their weight that’s way more painful than like a 25 person firm.

[00:31:31] Darl Champion: That has one person not pulling their weight. So I think you’ve got those people that are just not performing well. And then you’ve got like the cancers, the toxic people, the people that don’t do what needs to be done. They won’t do it. They refuse to listen. They’re complain all the time. They’re just not a good fit.

[00:31:48] Darl Champion: And those people too. You just got to rip the bandaid off and tell them, look, you’re doing great work. You’re just not a great fit for what we’re trying to do here. You know, a lot of times I give [00:32:00] people the opportunity to find a job. Hey, I’ll give you, you know, opportunity to look somewhere else, find a job.

[00:32:05] Darl Champion: But, you know, I think, you know, those people, they can’t fit anywhere in your firm. If you have somebody who’s underperforming, I do think you’ve got to ask yourself, is this, A knee problem is this. I didn’t give them the right tools to succeed. I didn’t train them enough. I didn’t give them, you know, enough experiences to get those skills.

[00:32:26] Darl Champion: Are there other places in the firm where they might fit? But if you look at all that and you’re like, man, they’re just not able, they’re just not going to work here. You’ve just got to do it. And again, it sucks, but you’ve got to look at the healthy organization as a whole and whether it’s fair to other people, because when you’re superstar employees, see the C minus players there, and you’ve got an A plus employee that will damage your culture.

[00:32:53] Darl Champion: Probably just about as bad as a toxic employee. Well,

[00:32:55] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, you know bring up Ben Glass again. I’ve heard him say more [00:33:00] than once It’s like after you get rid of that and boy everybody else says what took you so long Yeah

[00:33:06] Darl Champion: yep.

[00:33:06] Jonathan Hawkins: So that

[00:33:07] Darl Champion: You know, it’s funny too, because I’m like, why didn’t y’all tell me? Like it could have been sooner, but people don’t, you know, they don’t want to speak and I get it. Like you don’t want to have a culture where people are like, Hey, so and so is doing this. But you know, you do need a culture of honest reporting.

[00:33:23] Darl Champion: Where people say, Hey, look, I, look, I, I think a ton on sports analogies. So I always think of it, you know, we talk about somebody who’s a cancer in the locker room. So you have somebody like I’m a Steelers fan, Antonio Brown, great wide receiver. But the guy’s batshit crazy. Like he’s just totally nuts, did a lot of crazy things.

[00:33:40] Darl Champion: He wasn’t a good fit. They had to get rid of him. You can have the equivalent of an Antonio Brown in your organization. They’re putting up great stats. They’re doing great things, but they are absolutely toxic and poisoning the well. If you have a strong locker room, a strong culture, you can more easily deal with those [00:34:00] things.

[00:34:00] Darl Champion: It is more likely that other people will speak up and try to get them in line. Hey, that’s not the way we do things here again. You use the Atlanta Braves is a great example, right? Like, Hey, this is not part of the, this is not the Atlanta Braves way. This is not the way we do things. You don’t even need to go higher up to get that person involved.

[00:34:17] Darl Champion: They just enforce it among themselves. And that to me is the importance of having that great culture.

[00:34:23] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, I agree with all of that. So, so shifting another thing that you posted about fairly recently is, it’s about niching down in your practice. And you know, I’m. I’m on the niche downside of the thing although that’s not always the case. I don’t, you know, there are certain parts that, you know, small town practice, you really can’t do it.

[00:34:46] Jonathan Hawkins: Um, yeah. And then even, you know, and then maybe you want two or three instead of just one. So what’s your view and what’s your take on sort of a niche practice?

[00:34:57] Darl Champion: So, you know, I [00:35:00] hope I didn’t come across in my post to say I’m totally opposed to niching down the intent was to say, you don’t have to, I think some people feel obligated, they’re like. Everybody’s telling me I got to do this. I got to find something so they end up drilling down and the next thing You know, it’s like they’re only handling dog bites with german shepherds in this particular part And it’s like I mean I saw a thing the other day for a guy who does nothing but fedex truck cases He’s in another state, but that’s it Like he took the niche of personal injury to motor vehicle to trucking to fedex And it’s like, look, if that’s what you’re passionate about, great, but don’t feel the obligation to do it.

[00:35:37] Darl Champion: I think a great example of somebody who I have a ton of respect for, who has a niche practice and does it the right way is Joe Freed. Excellent lawyer, great person, but Joe is passionate about safety. He’s passionate about safety for truck drivers and he just loves it. I think, and you can see this now because a lot of people hold themselves out as truck wreck lawyers I think some people might [00:36:00] do it for the money.

[00:36:01] Darl Champion: And I think when you’re looking at a niche as, Hey, this is just gonna be a way for me to make money. You’re not going to be passionate about it. If you’re not passionate about it, you’re not going to put in the hours and get through those hard times to do it. You’re also probably going to get bored because you’re not passionate.

[00:36:15] Darl Champion: And I just think it’s a recipe for dissatisfaction for me. Personally, we handle a variety of cases. We’ve got med mal premises. Products, liability, car wreck, truck wreck, handled an accounting malpractice claim like three years

[00:36:30] Jonathan Hawkins: Oh, wow.

[00:36:31] Darl Champion: I’ve had legal malpractice. So we have a variety of cases and, but I like it.

[00:36:36] Darl Champion: I like that variety. If you told me tomorrow, Hey Darrell, you’re only doing nothing but medical malpractice cases. I would. Go do something else because I don’t want to. I like medical malpractice cases. We have them, but I don’t want to just do one thing. So that’s my philosophy of niching. And my recommendation of people would be if there’s something that you feel naturally drawn to, you know, whether it’s within personal injury or some other area, [00:37:00] do it, but don’t feel the obligation to do it because you think that’s the only way you can be successful.

[00:37:07] Jonathan Hawkins: And a couple of things I would add to that is, you know, don’t do it too early in your career. You You need a lot of variety to really see what’s out there. And then the other thing I’d say is I’ve heard of people, you know, sort of picking a niche that’s a little too. Small. I mean, there’s just not going to be enough work there.

[00:37:26] Jonathan Hawkins: It’s like, you may be the best and the only person in the world that does it, but there’s only like two cases a year. So, you know, that’s another thing you gotta be careful about. Um, so I want to talk about another one of your LinkedIn posts. You talked about, I think early on, let me see, you shouldn’t focus on money, but instead focus on sort of what you want to do and what you want to be in life not what you want to accomplish. by materially in the next year or two unpack that a little bit.

[00:37:55] Darl Champion: Sure. So I see this in 2 ways. I see this with people that want to start their firm, but don’t. [00:38:00] I also see it a lot with people that want to be a plaintiff’s lawyer and they never make the leap from the defense side because they don’t want to take that cut and guaranteed pay, which is natural when you’re in a contingency fee practice, you’ve got to do it.

[00:38:11] Darl Champion: And so they’re looking at, well, I’m going to make, I may make less this year or next year, whatever. And I think that’s the wrong way to be looking at things. I think you have to ask yourself and think more longterm three, five, 10 years and longer. What do, what kind of lawyer do I want to be? Cause one day you will wake up and it will be three years, five years, 10 years, whatever down the road.

[00:38:34] Darl Champion: And if you’re stuck in a job making, you know, you might have a great salary. But if you’re stuck in a job, you’re not happy at you’re going to be miserable. And if you had made that leap three, five, 10 years plus earlier, you would probably be making significantly more money than where you’re at the job that you’re unhappy about.

[00:38:51] Darl Champion: So you’ve got to make short term sacrifices, whether it’s starting your firm or switching to a different practice area to get to where you want to [00:39:00] be. And I just, I see a lot of people. And I talked to a lot of people when we’re trying to recruit people to come and work at our firm, that’s kind of the sentiment I hear.

[00:39:08] Darl Champion: Is well, I’m making X and you know, you’re guaranteed base salaries only, you know, X amount lower. It’s like, that’s just the nature of our business. You want to be a plaintiff’s lawyer? That’s what you’re gonna have to deal with. But. You know, I make multiples of what I would make if I had stayed at another firm because I made the leap the first few years, probably not, at least not the first year, but like, yeah, I mean, there was definitely times where it sucked and you’re like, man, am I ever going to get another case?

[00:39:39] Darl Champion: But over time, put in the work, the money will follow. And then you are also have become what you wanted to become. I do.

[00:39:50] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, percent in

[00:39:51] Jonathan Hawkins: that camp. I mean, number one, you need to do what you want to do. And you know, I’m a big, I call [00:40:00] it optionality. And I tell a lot of younger lawyers, it’s you want to live below your means. Don’t go spend everything because the more you spend your money and you get used to that lifestyle. You limit your options and then you’re stuck and or at least you tell yourself you’re stuck You could probably still do it. But you know early on You know, don’t spend all the money. Don’t go buy the nice car right out of law school And then when the opportunity comes up you say hey, I can take this leap and take the risk and get the multiple down the road because You know, you’ve sort of planned your life that way.

[00:40:35] Jonathan Hawkins: So That’s huge um All right. So a couple other things i’m not sure, you know, i’ve talked to a lot of founding lawyers on this podcast so far um, i’m not sure i’ve talked to anybody about owning their own building, do you own your own building?

[00:40:55] Darl Champion: my buddy drew Ashby, great plaintiff’s lawyer in Atlanta. He’s a 20 percent owner. I’m an 80 percent owner. We [00:41:00] bought it together. We created an LLC and bought it back in 2020. And it’s been a great decision. And happy to talk

[00:41:07] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, I want to talk. I want to talk a little bit about you know, i’ve heard I hear both sides I mean, I think owning real estate is you know, I don’t want to own a You High rise office at this time of, you know, of the world, but, you know, owning real estate’s great. One, I guess, counter argument I’ve heard is that if you keep growing, you might outgrow the building you buy.

[00:41:29] Jonathan Hawkins: So I, I get that too. So,

[00:41:31] Darl Champion: kind of been somewhat of an issue that we’ve had. But my counterpoint to that would be, you can outgrow your lease too.

[00:41:37] Jonathan Hawkins: that’s true.

[00:41:38] Darl Champion: And, you know, to me, you have more flexibility as the owner than you do, if you have a lease, because you have a lease, you’re subject to some landlord or some real estate investment trust that does not give a crap about you and is going to hold you to some draconian terms or make you pay a ton of money to build out, to move to some other larger space in the building.

[00:41:57] Darl Champion: And then you may outgrow that [00:42:00] to me, if there is a danger of outgrowing your space, you actually have more options as the owner, because guess what, you can sell the building. You can move out and lease it to somebody else. One of the things we’re doing in our building right now, because we did not have enough physical offices for people.

[00:42:15] Darl Champion: Was we had a thousand square feet of storage on our lower level. We’re building that out into offices. And it’s going to add about five offices here. So, we also bought an additional building in Woodstock last year. And it’s a small building. It’s only 2000 square feet, but it’s a great investment.

[00:42:30] Darl Champion: But here’s what I would say about. Commercial real estate. One, your all in costs with mortgage, taxes operating expenses for utilities, all that, is going to be significantly cheaper than what you were going to find in office space, period. Even at the current interest rates. Now, we did get a better interest rate in 2020, But like we have an 11, 000 square foot building to get 11, 000 square feet.

[00:42:56] Darl Champion: Let’s say you’re paying 30 a foot. You’re looking at over [00:43:00] 300, 000 a year in rent. The air conditioner is going to cut off at 6 p. m. because they control the HVAC. It’s not going to be on the weekends when you need to come in and work. You’re gonna have no control. You’re gonna be paying that much money.

[00:43:13] Darl Champion: You could probably pay two thirds of that. Like I want to say, you know, our all in costs are significant. I’ll just put it this way. There’s significantly less than that are all in costs. Okay. Not only that, but I am paying myself rent. I’m building equity in an asset and that asset is appreciating. So to me, it’s like, I understand the people that just don’t want the headache of building ownership.

[00:43:37] Darl Champion: They’re just like, Hey, I don’t want to have to worry about the alarm going off in the middle of the night. But if you can hire people who can handle that for you and do that, you don’t have to worry about it. But from an economic perspective and a pure dollars and cents to me, owning is absolutely the way to go.

[00:43:53] Darl Champion: If you can find a suitable office space.

[00:43:55] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, I’m with you. I think that’s great. So, so there’s something I, [00:44:00] some people know this. I’ve talked to people From other parts of the country about you and this issue and it’s the mighty debate. So you’re sort of famous for the for taking these guys on. So, first of all, why don’t you tell us what mighty or was and

[00:44:19] Jonathan Hawkins: sort

[00:44:19] Darl Champion: don’t even know what they are anymore because I haven’t heard a peep from them since

[00:44:22] Jonathan Hawkins: I think they might have, you might have won the debate and killed them off. But so

[00:44:27] Darl Champion: I think the market, I think the market decided that debate. So, Mighty was a, and they’re still around, and I mean, I think they’re still trying to get cases, but they’re also a vendor in the personal injury space. But they had this great idea that they were going to start a law firm that was going to handle cases for so much cheaper.

[00:44:47] Darl Champion: It was like 30 percent instead of a third. So they’re like, Oh, you get a 10 percent savings. But these lawyers were not going to have any experience in personal injury. Some of them were not even or the minimal experience of personal injury. They [00:45:00] had no trial experience. They were in some far off state, some of them, and they just thought, Hey, you just get some cases, you shuffle some papers around and you get it.

[00:45:08] Darl Champion: I think that is a perfect example of everybody trying to be like the next Uber. Oh, we’re going to disrupt this industry. This industry is ripe for disruption. Well, no, it’s not like at the end of the day, like you’re representing people, it’s a legal service. You can’t just shuffle papers around and expect a big check to come.

[00:45:28] Darl Champion: You’ve got to fight tooth and nail. You’ve got to be willing to file a lawsuit. You’ve got to be willing to take your case to trial. And when you create a business model that doesn’t do that, to me, It was like the worst of both worlds because you’ve now got a volume practice that has sort of the negative things that go about it.

[00:45:43] Darl Champion: But no threat of no leverage with insurance companies when you’re not willing to pursue the case all the way. And they could not understand why I thought it was a [00:46:00] problem. And you know, their whole thing was, well, this shows all these lawyers getting upset shows that we’re right, that these lawyers are trying to protect their own.

[00:46:06] Darl Champion: It’s like, no, we’re not. I’m trying to protect the clients. There might be lawyers that are worried about your fee and you know, you’re somehow going to undercut them and lower them, whatever. But I’m worried about all the clients that are going to get screwed over because you’re misleading them and you have no idea what you’re doing.

[00:46:22] Darl Champion: So I haven’t heard from them in forever. I don’t know where they’re at. I don’t know if that’s going to be a thing. But I’m glad that I haven’t heard much about them.

[00:46:31] Jonathan Hawkins: What’s interesting, you know, on that fee, it to your point, just economically, the way I look at it, if you’re, practice, you’re probably getting sort of the lower dollar cases. And if you have no threat of trial and you never take them to trial you know, a lot of low volume cases can survive because every now and then they get some big hits to sort of balance it out.

[00:46:52] Jonathan Hawkins: But if you never get the big hit and you got to have this huge staff to run these cases it’s like, you’re never going to be able to turn the [00:47:00] corner and make any money. It seems like, I don’t know.

[00:47:03] Darl Champion: I think the one thing that clients don’t understand, and we see this in Atlanta with like the 25 percent lawyer. Now there’s a guy have you seen the guy the 20 is plenty lawyer?

[00:47:13] Jonathan Hawkins: I have not.

[00:47:16] Darl Champion: So it’s like what clients don’t Understand they just see that they don’t understand the difference between cost and value and so if I as a lawyer, let’s say I get you a hundred thousand dollars, but I charge a third you’re getting 66, 000 something dollars in your pocket if that same lawyer gets you fifty thousand dollars, but only charges twenty percent You’re only getting 40 in your pocket and you probably had a very bad client experience along the way did not to get as much individual attention.

[00:47:46] Darl Champion: You’re one of many I mean all sorts of negative things that go along with it. So we try to focus on the value that we add both from a economic standpoint that, Hey, we’re just going to be able to get you more money. And to [00:48:00] the client service standpoint, but you know, the one thing that when I had the debate with mighty that they didn’t understand is he’s like, how can you get more money?

[00:48:06] Darl Champion: Like, it’s just filling out some papers. I’m like, this shows that you have no idea what you’re

[00:48:11] Jonathan Hawkins: Yes. Yeah.

[00:48:12] Darl Champion: Yeah, that we could have a whole nother podcast episode about criticisms of the personal injury industry, but that to me was I think they were a flash in the pan. I’ve not heard anything about them and yeah,

[00:48:27] Jonathan Hawkins: speaking of other issues in the personal injury space something that’s sort of made the news here in Georgia are these I call them the runner lawsuits. You know, runners it is, it’s been a problem. I’m sure you’ve seen it more than I have or know about it more than I do, but I’ve known it’s been a problem forever. And of course, I’m not sure the state regulators aren’t doing much about it. I guess it’s a criminal statute, but prosecutors aren’t doing anything about it. So somebody has filed at least two that I know of at this point. Any thoughts on that?

[00:48:57] Darl Champion: So yeah, the runner issue is a major [00:49:00] problem in in Georgia and particularly the Atlanta Metro area. It, to me, it’s gotten worse. I know of. Clients who have been solicited, some of whom by law firms that are being sued in those runner lawsuits, and not only were they solicited by one or both of those law firms, sometimes they’re like, hey, I had 10 different law firms called or 10 different people calling me telling me.

[00:49:23] Darl Champion: And it’s so rampant and pervasive and there’s like no deterrent factor. It would be like the steroid era and baseball. If you were like, Hey, yeah, we know everybody’s doing it. And we’re not even testing for it. Right. If even if you’re testing for us, people are still going to do it. Like people still get caught now doing something, but you’re at least deterring it and reducing the risk, it’ll happen.

[00:49:46] Darl Champion: The problem that I see with the sort of enforcement mechanism is prosecutors, like, that’s not high on their priority list. I think there were some officers in DeKalb County that were prosecuted a few years ago for selling police reports. But [00:50:00] it happens like everywhere. I had two clients in Clayton County.

[00:50:04] Darl Champion: Mother and son. They were in a wreck hit by a DUI driver. The police report wasn’t ready for like 10 days, took a long time, but like two days after the wreck, no police report available. They get solicited by somebody who’s offering them like $15,000 cash advances, plus like a thousand dollars, what they called signing bonuses.

[00:50:23] Darl Champion: And it’s just super egregious and nothing that the prosecutors aren’t going to do anything the state bar. I’ve tried to file complaints. I’ve tried to do stuff. But again, you deal with limited resources. I think some people don’t understand what a problem it is and the problems that it causes. So maybe it doesn’t get as much attention, but I do think that now it is starting to get more attention.

[00:50:49] Darl Champion: I think that you know, these lawsuits hopefully are just the beginning. 1 thing I’d like to see is a, an express private right of action for [00:51:00] lawyers or their clients that have been solicited to sue law firms that have solicited and to have some sort of statutory penalties for. You know, this is statutory penalty plus fees and you’re going to have lawyers cracking down on it allows you to do discovery.

[00:51:16] Darl Champion: The lawyer can build the case. They can then deliver that to the state bar in a perfect world. You wouldn’t need private enforcers, you know, playing sheriff. But you have to in this scenario, I think, because nothing else is being done. I can’t think of like a super efficient way. For it to be done other than the state bar just to put more financial resources into addressing it

[00:51:38] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, that’s interesting. Yeah. Yeah, I’m with you, you know, it’s a problem and he’s something needs to happen. You know, a friend of mine was in a wreck many years ago. He was in the hospital, he’s in his hospital room and he gets a call to the phone that’s in the hospital room, picks it up and it’s somebody trying to sign him up and he’s like, who are you?

[00:51:57] Jonathan Hawkins: How do you even know I was in this room? You know?

[00:51:59] Darl Champion: [00:52:00] Yeah, I mean i’ve heard it from people being solicited in hospital emergency rooms I’ve heard of people being called while on their cell phone while they’re in the ambulance

[00:52:09] Jonathan Hawkins: Oh my gosh.

[00:52:11] Darl Champion: It’s gotten so aggressive and so pervasive that, you know, and again, the more pervasive it gets, the more aggressive they get.

[00:52:17] Darl Champion: Cause then you have like the people competing against themselves. So hopefully, you know, the lawsuits are bringing attention to it. I hope that there is some solution, whether it’s the state bar legislative solution, or both to try and weed out some of this. Cause you know, as lawyers, we do have to police our own.

[00:52:36] Darl Champion: Because if you don’t, Somebody else is going to police you and you’re not going to like it when non lawyers are the ones policing you. So I would encourage lawyers to do a better job of policing our own and reporting things that, that you see that are clearly improper and try and get them addressed.

[00:52:56] Darl Champion: That’s

[00:52:57] Jonathan Hawkins: So, so shifting gears you’re coming up on [00:53:00] your 10 year anniversary you’ve had a lot of success, you know, from just you to now, you know, what, five, six attorneys and pretty big staff. Um, looking forward to the next, you know, 10, 20, 30 years what’s the vision for your firm? What do you see?

[00:53:16] Darl Champion: a great question. When you sent me the list of things we may discuss, I was like, man, this is a tough one. So, you know, when I started my firm, I was in survival mode. And when you’re in survival mode, you’re literally thinking of like, what do I need to do this week, month, quarter, whatever. And there comes a point where you shift out of that and need to shift out of that survival mode and start thinking longterm.

[00:53:37] Darl Champion: I probably did it later than I should have. In terms of being more intentional, but you know, I’m not somebody who has like revenue goals or I’m like, Hey, I want to hit X million dollars in revenue, or I want to have X number of employees. I just want to have a firm that gets great results for clients and provides great service.

[00:53:56] Darl Champion: And I, that may be too simplistic for a business goal, but [00:54:00] that really is my only goal is get great results, make clients happy, deliver great service. Because I do think a lot of what I see in the personal injury world is what I see in other industries like medicine. It’s just everything being super commercialized and everything being about the dollar.

[00:54:18] Darl Champion: And, you know, if we can be sort of the opposite of that, I think that will be our niche, right? I mean, you talk about a niche, your niche doesn’t have to be a practice area. Your niche could be, you know, partly your brand that, you know, we’re kind of the opposite of that. And that’s one of the things that we try to do is be the opposite of what’s going on.

[00:54:35] Darl Champion: So, you know, obviously I would love to have bigger and better cases. I think that’s every personal injury lawyer’s goal is, you know, quality over quantity, and that’s a natural evolution. I’ve certainly seen it over 10 years. The cases I get now are not. They’re better than the cases I got 10 years ago, fortunately.

[00:54:54] Darl Champion: So yeah, I mean, I would say continue getting bigger cases doing a great job and making clients [00:55:00] happy.

[00:55:02] Jonathan Hawkins: So, I’m a lawyer, I’m out there I’m thinking about starting my firm, or maybe Just started I’m a few months in what advice would you give them? You’ve got 10 years under your belt. Now you said you’ve learned through making lots of mistakes. What’s some advice you would give?

[00:55:21] Darl Champion: So I think for anybody thinking of starting their firm before they’ve even actually launched it, I think. They need to take stock of why do they want to start their own firm? Because I do see some people that start their own firm and they’re just not motivated It’s just like a knee jerk reaction.

[00:55:36] Darl Champion: Maybe they’re unhappy in their situation You need to sit down and have a real talk with yourself and ask you about ask yourself Why you it is that you want to do it for me? I just don’t like working for other people I like calling the shots. I like making the decisions I like having control over the operations, case selection, everything.

[00:55:55] Darl Champion: And that’s just me. That’s like always the way that I’ve been. I don’t, I would not be considered [00:56:00] a great employee if I worked somewhere. And there are people like that, but you know, if you get to that and you’re like, Hey, absolutely. I want to start my firm. I think. Recognizing that you’ve got the short term survival mode.

[00:56:12] Darl Champion: What are the things I need to do to survive short term? Then what are the things that I need to be doing long term? Sometimes people do put the long term too early, like we were talking about earlier. You know, niching down too early or maybe being too selective too early. You can build your brand and build your niche or build, you know, your case selection criteria while you’re still doing things to survive and then transition to that long term thinking later.

[00:56:37] Darl Champion: But I think the sooner that you can get into intentional mode, Hey, this is what I want to do in one year, three year, five year, 10 years, and more, the better you’re going to be. Again, for me, I was probably stuck in survival mode longer and we had some good years. It wasn’t that it was just, I was programmed to think that way.

[00:56:56] Darl Champion: I was just in that mode and I just never broke out of it. [00:57:00] Until like it was, I mean, it may have been like 2019, 2020 with COVID, you know, when things start to slow down and you’re like, wow, like what am I doing? What do I want to be when I grow up? What do I want to do? Sooner you can do that, the better.

[00:57:12] Darl Champion: I think showing up every day, putting in the work, even on the days where you don’t feel like it, even, Where you can’t see the progress you know, you’re making the sort of invisible gains that you can’t see. Just keep at it. That’s especially difficult in a plaintiff’s practice. Cause we’re not sending out bills.

[00:57:30] Darl Champion: You know, you can have long periods of time where you’re wondering, like, am I doing the right thing? Because the revenue is not coming in. And so, you know, having your plan, sticking to your plan and every day doing the work and you’ll see the progress.

[00:57:49] Jonathan Hawkins: Dara, that was great. And this has been fun for me. I think you’ve got a lot of cool things to say, a lot of interesting things to say, and I encourage people to go find you on LinkedIn, follow you, [00:58:00] ring that bell so they get all your posts. But for those out there that want to get in touch with you how can they find you?

[00:58:06] Darl Champion: Yeah, I love it when people reach out to me on LinkedIn. I have people send me messages, you know, and we set up times to talk, do a zoom, whatever. I just give them my experience. I don’t fashion myself as like a business consultant. I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing at times which I think is just, you know, part of the growth process.

[00:58:23] Darl Champion: But you know, most of what I’m giving is just, I’m not trying to sell something. It’s just, This is what I’ve done. This is what I found does not work. A lot of things I’ve done that don’t work. And here’s what I found that does work. And I’m happy to share it with anybody. So look me up on LinkedIn. I’m happy to make a connection and message me that way.

[00:58:40] Darl Champion: You can also email me champ at the champion firm. com. Happy to set up a time to talk and give you my viewpoint on things.

[00:58:47] Jonathan Hawkins: I will say you’ve got a great name for a brand. You got that too, man. That’s good.

[00:58:51] Darl Champion: Thank you. Thank you. So my, my nickname is champ. My dad’s name is Darrell. I’m Darrell Jr. I never went by Darrell until I got to like law [00:59:00] school. Cause I always, when I got to law school, I felt weird introducing myself as champ champion. So, we’ve been trying to think of a way to integrate. Champion into some kind of personal injury slogan, but haven’t found a way to do it.

[00:59:13] Darl Champion: That isn’t super cheesy

[00:59:14] Jonathan Hawkins: You might just have to go cheesy. You might just have to,

[00:59:18] Darl Champion: I may you know a friend of mine sent me a text He said, you know your slogan should be why hire a chump when you can get the champ

[00:59:24] Jonathan Hawkins: that’s pretty good. That’s pretty good.

[00:59:27] Darl Champion: Yeah, a little cheesy for me though. That’s just not my thing. And so, you know I don’t know. We’ll see. You may see it one day. I’ll come across my LinkedIn

[00:59:35] Jonathan Hawkins: I’ll be looking for it on a billboard somewhere. It’s

[00:59:38] Jonathan Hawkins: the

[00:59:39] Darl Champion: If you ever see me on a billboard, shoot me a message and say, Daryl what have you become? What was all this stuff we talked about?

[00:59:46] Darl Champion: I will say that before we go, and you can edit this out if you want, or put it in some other part of the podcast. I have no criticisms of people that want to market on billboards. I have no criticism of people that choose a particular media. To me, it’s [01:00:00] all about messaging. Are you portraying yourself in a professional way?

[01:00:03] Darl Champion: Are you being truthful with potential clients? It’s the people that are making, giving us a bad name that have cheesy ads that make it seem like this is a game that this, the personal injury clients are just out for money and let’s just get a big check. That’s what I have a problem with. I think there’s a lot of ways you can advertise through traditional media and do it.

[01:00:26] Darl Champion: Honestly, ethically and present yourself in a professional way.

[01:00:29] Jonathan Hawkins: thing, you know, there’s so many different, Business models in the law. There’s so many different ways to brand yourself, so many different ways to market yourself, and there’s always going to be somebody in that space, but it also gives you the opportunity to be in the other space, so

[01:00:43] Jonathan Hawkins: you almost, you almost want some of this you want, so you can be different, right?

[01:00:48] Darl Champion: You got to have your own voice. That’s what I tell people, you know, with LinkedIn, the only thing, I think a lot of people are afraid to take a position on things or to say things. It’s like, what if I ruffle some feathers? If you do that, you’re [01:01:00] in like the cold center where you’re not getting any attention, good or bad.

[01:01:04] Darl Champion: I don’t say things just for the sake of saying things or trying to get a reaction. But if you are willing to let people know who you are and what you stand for and how you view things, good things will happen. People, you know, whether it’s referral sources, potential clients will gravitate towards you and flock towards you.

[01:01:21] Darl Champion: And then you’ll find yourself aligned with people that have similar viewpoints. And it’s a great feeling.

[01:01:26] Jonathan Hawkins: Yeah, I agree with that. Well, Darrell, well, I appreciate you coming on and this has been fun.

[01:01:32] Darl Champion: Awesome. Thanks, Jonathan.

[01:01:34] ​[01:02:00]