The Powerhouse Practice Podcast

Powerhouse Podcast Episode 2: The Make-Up Of a Perfect Client With Guest Sharon Christie

May 06, 2021 Powerhouse Practice Season 1 Episode 2
The Powerhouse Practice Podcast
Powerhouse Podcast Episode 2: The Make-Up Of a Perfect Client With Guest Sharon Christie
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to the Powerhouse Practice Podcast with Social Security Disability Attorney Nancy L. Cavey! The Powerhouse Practice Podcast is where you will learn the ins and outs of a highly successful Social Security Disability Practice. We cover everything from practice management to marketing, and everything in-between!

In this weeks episode - we feature Attorney Sharon Christie! We cover how what makes up the demographics and criteria of a "perfect client" when attracting new potentials and everything in-between!

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS SHOW:

Join the Powerhouse Podcast Group:  https://powerhousepractice.com/

HOW TO CONTACT SHARON:

Sharon's Website Link: https://sharonchristielaw.com/

As always - please like share and subscribe to our podcast for more new content! We appreciate it!

Nancy L. Cavey:

Hey, I'm Nancy gave me a welcome to powerhouse practice, supercharging, your social security disability practice. I've got a special guest today. Personally , I consider it a dear friend who I've known for many years. She is one of the leading social security disability attorneys in the Baltimore, Maryland area. And she has a unique history , uh , that I'd like to share with you today. We're also going to talk about one of our favorite topics and that is identifying your perfect client. So welcome Sharon.

Sharon Christie:

Thank you, Nancy. It is a thrill to be here. It is great to see you. Uh, and I, I'm looking forward to jumping into this topic.

Nancy L. Cavey:

So you bring to the practice a unique , um, background. So w could you give us the highlights of your background and your career and what led you to be a social security disability attorney?

Sharon Christie:

Sure. So as you know, I am a , uh , multi career professional. I started out as a nurse. I was an ICU nurse , um , for about about six years. And then I went to law school, got out of law school and got into personal injury. So I started out at a big law firm doing defense work and then switched to the plaintiff's side, did that for many years, but really became dissatisfied with that area of practice. And in about the same time, I went out on my own, set up my own law firm and was introduced to social security disability practice at that time. And I thought, well, let me try it because I'm really tired of personal injury. I need something else. As soon as I got into disability work with social security, I knew immediately, this is where I should be. This is sort of what feeds me. Uh, I'm I'm using my skills as a nurse. I'm using my skills as a lawyer and I really am helping people. So that's, that's how I ended up as a disability lawyer.

Nancy L. Cavey:

That's a phenomenal story. And of course you bring that experience to your practice, not only in , um, hailing the cases, but in identifying what you believe to be your perfect client. But before we jump to that topic , uh , tell me, how are you dealing with the COVID challenges in your practice what's working? What's not working.

Sharon Christie:

It's really interesting because almost from the beginning, my practice was set up in a way, excuse me, in a way that most clients never came to my office to begin with. They could, if they wanted to, we made that offer, but I recognize that people who are disabled in some way who are sick, you know, don't feel well, day in and day out. They don't really want a track truck themselves to a lawyer's office and sit there and have a conversation. So from the beginning, we've always done remote work with clients when COVID hit. That was really no transition for us at all. Uh , because we closed of course, the office to the public, but we were already working that way. The biggest difference for us was really within the office. We had to shut down for , uh, for about a month entirely , uh, because of what was happening, where we're located. And then we came back in, but fortunately we're set up in a way that everybody has a private office. So everybody's in their office and we mask up as we need to, and dues use zoom for meetings. And so it was not a difficult transition. We were very fortunate in that regard

Nancy L. Cavey:

At our office assembly set up and we're considered essential services in Florida. So we, we never asked them physically shut down. Um, so let's dive into , uh , our topic today and that is , um, picking your perfect client and you, and I both know that that can make or break your practice. And we are tempted as lawyers to have lots of cases because we feel like we've got to fill our practice buckets as opposed to having the perfect client for our practice. So tell me , um, you're , you're thinking about the perfect practice , perfect client and how you've designed your firm around that concept.

Sharon Christie:

Sure. So , uh, you know, I made the mistakes. I think that a lot of people made as you started to , to mention, you know, just taking lots of clients, taking everybody in, and it didn't take long before I stepped back and said, wait a minute, this is not making sense because it's a contingent fee practice. You know, if we could bill by the hour, that'd be a different story, but we can't , uh, you know, so it's contingent fee and there were two things that struck me. One was social security versus SSI. And it's not that we don't take SSI cases. We do, but I don't actively seek them out because I realized I'm putting in the same amount of work, but my best case is going to generate less revenue than my best social security case. So , uh , the next thing I looked at was, well, what is my best social security case? Not just from a revenue standpoint, that's very important, but also from working with the client, you know, who do we like to work with? Who are the best clients to work with and what distinguishes them from the other clients that we have. And so I sat down and picked those cases that were the best cases, both from the point of view of that we're working with and the revenue. And what I found was a couple of things that'll be familiar to everybody. Age is very important, consistent, steady work. History is very important. What is wrong with you? Is it something that is subject to objective evidence, you know, herniated disks with failed back surgery. Now that's a good case because we've got the MRIs, we've got surgeries and we've got documentation saying they don't come right out and say the surgery didn't work, but you know, it is not been successful in relieving their pain itself. So even, even with younger clients, when I see failed back surgery, and that's how I've taught my intake staff, I'm like, this is going to be a good case. So you want to look for that. But I gear my marketing towards people that are older 50 to 60 good work history and problems, issues that I know are going to turn into a good case. So, you know , uh, degenerative disc disease with surgery that didn't work. Um, I've had a lot of success with multiple sclerosis cases when they progressed to a certain point , uh, migraine headaches that are not responsive to treatment. I've had a lot of success with those types of cases, but I have, I have determined along the way, what are the best cases and what are the characteristics of those clients? So it's, and it's been an ongoing thing. It wasn't just a one and done because over time, some of these issues have changed. There was a time when, you know, we get calls for fibromyalgia and nobody believed that that was a thing, you know, nobody wanted to believe that that was a significant problem. And then the American college of rheumatologists came out and said, Oh yeah, this is a real condition. And it's creates a lot of , uh, pain and limitation, et cetera. So we started to look at those cases differently. Uh , I think what I ended up from my point of view, probably about once a year, I sit down and look at this , uh, uh, ideal client picture at least once a year to see has anything changed, you know, what's happening in social security. That's the other thing you need to factor in because the rules may not change that much, but we all know the way they're handling cases can vary significantly, depending and , and important depending on your location and the judges that you're dealing with day in and day out. So ,

Nancy L. Cavey:

Sharon , one of the things that I use the term is tribal demographic , and that means the quality of the person. How does that factor into your selection?

Sharon Christie:

It , it factors in a lot , um, one thing I will not tolerate in my practice is somebody who is in any way abusive to my staff. Um, so one of the things that I'm always looking at as we initially take on a client and as we continue to work with them is how are they treating my staff? We treat all of our clients with great respect, but I expect the same thing in return. Are they cooperating? Uh we've you know, I've had to fire any number of clients along the way who simply wouldn't cooperate, wouldn't return calls would not provide the information that we needed just wouldn't help us. And we can't help them if they're not willing to help us. So , um, I'm, I'm looking certainly for people who are , uh, coming to us for help, who are respectful of my staff and who understand that when we ask them for information , uh , that it's not just for fun, we really need that to move their case along. I also make sure, in my first meeting with clients, we have a long discussion about the timeline and the reasonable expectations. And if I find somebody who is consistently unreasonable about that, that's not somebody I'm going to be able to help. And, you know, I've had to let clients go because of that.

Nancy L. Cavey:

And that's my philosophy also. Um, I won't call him new to my staff in any way. So we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to talk about in attracting and engaging clients stay tuned. So Sharon, one of my favorite books that I've used to learn who my perfect client is and how to attract them is a book called attracting perfect customers by Stacy hall and Jan Rose , Nick Brog NIEC . Um, and they talk about the lighthouse concept and that is many lawyers tend to be lighthouses who instead of attracting their perfect client is running up and down the beach, trying to attract everybody when everybody is not our perfect client. Um, so , um, one their , their exercises that they do in this book , uh , talks about trying to figure out one who your perfect client is, but how to attract them, but track them to your lighthouse. How have you , um, decided to attract your clients about who your perfect clients are and , um, what has worked and what hasn't worked.

Sharon Christie:

Sure. Um, those are great questions. So , uh, the first thing that I had to decide was to have the courage to say no, and to say no, the cases that were not perfect. And the second thing I had to decide was to stop this, let me be everything to everybody approach. So , uh, I have done any number of things , um, just like you have unsure, and there's, there's an old saying, you know, I don't know how to tell you one way to get a hundred clients, but I can give you 10 ways to get 10 clients. And it's very true. Uh, I have , uh, done , uh, you know, SEO website. Uh, I've done, I have a YouTube channel. Uh, I have a newsletter. Uh, we send birthday cards to stay in touch with clients. Uh, I have fashioned certain approaches based on diseases. So for example , um, I was involved for many years on the board of the brain injury association of Maryland. That was one type of injury that I target. And that was a great way for me to make connections with providers. Uh, I've found that , uh , so I've done that with a number of different kinds of, of , uh, diseases. And I don't always get on the boards, but I get involved with their nonprofit organizations. I am a vendor at , uh , any number of , uh, uh , professional conferences for social workers, for case managers. And , uh, and then for brain injury , uh, I've been a vendor at , uh , a conference they had here for people with disabilities in general. Um, uh, I've gone to the sarcoidosis foundation. So, and on and on. Um, what I have found over over the years is I get about a third of my business from former or current clients. I get about a third of my business from everything I do, website related or YouTube related. And I get about a third of my clients from other professionals. Some of whom are lawyers, most of whom are not. So I've taken the approach of work, making connections with the healthcare providers who are likely to be in front of my ideal clients and , uh, can make a referral to me. And that's worked out very well. I will tell you that when, particularly when I go to these conferences, I'm usually the only lawyer. Uh , and if there's another lawyer there, it's usually a trust and estates lawyer. So I have just been able to make tremendous inroads in developing relationships with other professionals and, and educating them on what is a good disability case and what is not so that they understand even before they make a referral to me, they understand why are these people getting to know ? I , I don't understand it. And, and I will explain that to them. I've given presentations to , uh, case managers to social work, et cetera , um, to try to educate them on what we're looking for in a case and what social security is looking for. I also have a booklet about social security disability that has been a huge , uh , uh, uh, way to , uh, get my name out there and get it passed around. It's, you know, the best business card you could ever have. It's and it's not that hard to do. It sounds so overwhelming, but when I finally sat down to do it, I said, well, let me just record what I always, my speech that I give to a new client. And then I built, built it out from there. So you have to do multiple things and you have to revise them over time. But you know, you, you, you want to spread yourself, spread your name out there , uh , and slowly but surely, you know, your name builds up and you start getting referrals from everywhere.

Nancy L. Cavey:

So how do you train your intake staff , uh , to identify your perfect client , uh, and , um, your perfect case . So I'm probably about demographics, who they are, how they think , um, what motivates them and the nature of the case, their medical condition, their age, their education. How do you train your staff, your intake ?

Sharon Christie:

Well, first I have written parameters for them. This is what we're looking for. And I've told them, look, it doesn't mean that if you, once you learn this , uh, if you think it's a good case and it doesn't meet all these parameters, we won't take it. We will, but you need to build up your expertise. So, first I give them a written list of questions. They have their script for intake. They know exactly what they have to ask about, and I teach them why these questions are important. Why it's important to know, for example, what is their , what treatment are they getting currently? What the problems that they're saying is keeping them from working, because when they get the answer of, well, no, I'm not getting any treatment now. And no, I haven't had treatment for a year or so. You know, we know that's not going to be a case we're going to take, but I teach them each, each question that they're asking is important and information we're trying to pull out from the client. So that's the first step to , to give them that script and to teach them , um , why we're doing that. Secondly, in the beginning, we would do the calls together. Yeah . And I would, I would ask the questions and I would tell the potential client, now this , you know, we're doing some training here. And so there's two of us on the phone. Does that make sure, you know, they don't quite up here . Um, and they would listen to me and how I would approach it and how I would ask the question, listen to me the answer , and then follow up on that. Because what I emphasize was, it's not just to get through all these questions, you have to listen to the answer . And if things don't make sense to you, keep it asking more questions until it makes sense. What they're telling you. If the chronology doesn't make sense or the , um, the, not so much for them. I mean, because I was a nurse, sometimes I would have questions about treatment, but I never expected my staff to be able to also , and that's okay. Um, but, but what the client was saying to them had to make sense to them. And if it didn't, I said, it's okay, just keep going back until you, you understand, you're sure that you're understanding what they tell you, ask them about their work history. You know, that's part of what the, the , uh, uh, uh , initial intake is. And if you don't have to get all the specific details that we're going to need, say for a work history report, but you do want to get a general sense of what is your work history like? Is this somebody who has a long, steady , uh , record , uh , that is going to be looked upon favorably by social security, as opposed to somebody with a very spotty record and not a good explanation as to why the record is so spotty , uh , and have them , uh, have the potential client , uh, explain to you any gaps there. What was that about? Have the client tell you very clearly why they can't work. And initially, you know, you always get to say, I can't sit too long. I can't stand too long. I can't walk too far. And my step , you know, learn immediately. No , that you don't take that as an answer because that's not what we need. So it involved a lot of teaching in the beginning, and then they would move to , I was asking questions and they were listening to, they were asking the questions and I was listening to them, do the intake. And then , uh , finally to the point where they're doing it on their own, you come to me, asked me if, if you're not sure don't take it. If you're not sure explain that, you know, you and I are gonna review it and that they will get back to you. And that's worked, that's worked extremely well over the years.

Nancy L. Cavey:

And how often do you do practice sessions with your staff? Let's, let's say they're , they've been with you. Well, let me back up. How many intake people do you have and how often do you train them or retrain them?

Sharon Christie:

I have , um, uh , right now I have two people that are doing intakes. One's been with me almost 15 years. Um, yeah. And , and, and the other has been with me six. And so honestly , um, retraining really is not an issue , uh, in the beginning, you know, I would probably every three to six months do some retraining, or if I would see like, Oh, you took this case, let me explain to you why I think this is problematic. And then they would get it like, Oh, I never thought about that. You know, I never , um , um, so the first year or two, it was probably every three to six months we would be sitting down again. Um, but after that, I mean, this gets into staffing too, but these are two people who, you know, I hire more for not experienced , but ability to learn and personality. And these were two people , um, uh , who had never set foot in a law firm before either one of them had no experience whatsoever doing disability cases or anything legal, but , uh, had the right personalities and are capable and willing to learn. You know, there's nothing more frustrating than having somebody who's capable, but not willing to learn something new. Yeah . Yeah. But so once you get the right people, you are gold, you are good to go.

Nancy L. Cavey:

So you brought , you brought up the , um, the use of what I call flanker markets and flank at work . It's our sort of people who interact with the perfect client. Um, and you've talked a little bit about how you've developed that relationship, but I certainly have found in the last couple of years, it's very difficult to get into a physician's office to do a presentation. Uh, do I answer their questions? Explain what a good client is , uh , with our role as including residual functional capacity forms , um, what's your experience been and how have you been able to , um, open those doors? My experience

Sharon Christie:

Has been, it's impossible. They don't want to see you then want to hear from you, which is why I go after the other people in the potentially in the office. Um, uh, or the case managers, the social workers , uh, the nurse practitioners. I found that nurse practitioners, although I'm not going to get in the office to make a presentation, because honestly the doctor's offices are all about seeing a large number of patients every day. And not about hearing from, you know , anybody about some kind of education, but I found that the nurse practitioners or the physician's assistants generally tend to be more helpful , uh, in terms of , uh, trying to get , uh , better information, trying to get RFCs, even though it's not ideal, although it's much better than it used to be , um, when it comes to the nurse practitioner, because, you know, I say, well, there , they didn't make the diagnosis of Dr . Deb , but they are commenting on severity. And , uh, and, and that has worked , uh, that's worked pretty well with most judges, not all of them. Uh , so, so I found Nancy, I , I finally stopped beating my head against the wall, trying to get inside doctor's offices. Cause it just wasn't working, but I would go after the, the , uh, the other professionals.

Nancy L. Cavey:

So we we've devoted this episode to perfect client, but what you're also talking about your hero also is your perfect client referrals . Yeah .

Sharon Christie:

Yes, that's correct. That is correct. Yes.

Nancy L. Cavey:

Yeah. Um, in terms of , um, going back to this perfect client concept, you mentioned something that both you and I have done for many years and that has developed disease, specific marketing and marketing materials. So for example, on my website, I have many disease pages that explain the social street disability view of that disease, what we need to do to prove the case. Um, and I want you to talk about that and expand on it and how you think that that has helped you attract your perfect client.

Sharon Christie:

Sure. And I've done the same thing and I've done it through YouTube. And I think it , it , it helps attract them because first of all, you know, you're narrowing it down to people with specific conditions that, you know, if, if other factors are, are right, this is going to make for a great client. The second thing it does is a lot of education because I will say, you know, listen, this is what we have to prove. This is what has to be true for you, just because you have, let's take Ms. Just because you have multiple sclerosis. That doesn't mean you're disabled , uh , in social security's view. Uh, and you know, many, many people have Ms and work without problems or with very little problems , uh, their entire work life. So it has to be much more than that. It's not about your diagnosis, that's just where we start. And then I go through in a lot of detail, this is what we're looking for. And I'll give examples for different disease conditions. So, you know, with Ms or example, do you need a Walker? Do you need a cane? Do you have drop foot? Do you have incontinence? Do you have, do you have, and I'll just start mentioning different , uh, problems that people with Ms. Can develop. And if this is you, and this is interfering with you being able to get to work or to complete your work day , day in and day out, then we need to talk. And so that naturally eliminates a number of people. And I've had people contact me to say, listen, you know, I read your stuff three years ago, you know, saw your YouTube three years ago. And I knew right then I wasn't at that point, but now I am. So,

Nancy L. Cavey:

So Sharon , a lot of people who are going to listen or watch this may say, well, that takes a lot of time. And I don't have that time. My response is taking that time will help you not only attract your perfect client , uh, but it's additionally marketing material and material that your staff can use in answering questions. So I want to ask you two questions. One, do you , uh , do you agree that it is well worth the time it takes to shoot these videos? And the second question is , um, how do you use this material? And even your website to repel people who are not your perfect client.

Sharon Christie:

Uh, so to answer your first question is absolutely worth the time. And it has become so much easier now because you can literally shoot your videos on your phone. It's just not a , a hard thing to do. Uh, so , um, it's, but it's absolutely worth the time because you know, your job in running your law firm is not just to handle cases. It's to actually run the firm and to keep the cases coming in. And that has to be a priority. So it is absolutely worth the time because you want the people calling you to be the cases that you were going to take. And I think the way that you use this to sort of repel cases that are not going to be you take is by doing what I said , you , you have to lay out what is a good case, what are the components of a good case? But you also have to be honest about what is not going to be a case that you can accept, and you don't have to put it in those terms, but you can just say, look, you know, I've heard from a lot of people and , and these are the things they complain about, but I can tell you, this is not gonna be a situation where social security is going to find you to say , well , in my opinion, and here's why, you know , uh, because you may , um, you may, I mean, I hear a lot, you know, well, I can't drive. Okay, well, I get that, but social security could care less, you know, that you can't draw it's. How does that affect you when you're actually on the job? It doesn't, they assume you're going to find you get Uber. You'll find some way to get there. Um, you know, I , um, I can't from younger people , uh, I can't do my job, you know, in sales as a sales associate, cause I have to be on my feet all the time and my feet hurt. Okay. Well, let's assume that's true. That's not going to prevent you from doing a job, sitting at a desk, putting address labels on envelopes, you know , so, so, so, but you understand that that's how social security is going to look at your case. And I've done videos about what is not a good case for disability and lay out those types of things so that people begin to understand that , uh , it's more than just saying I can't walk too far. I can't sit too long. I can't stand too long.

Nancy L. Cavey:

Uh , so w what are your goals for this year in , um , attracting your perfect client? Is there anything new or different you're doing, or you're doubling down? What are you doing?

Sharon Christie:

Yeah, it's, it's no, it's really, you know, more of the same refining, what we're already doing. Um, focusing on the one, I think the one difference now , uh, over the last year is what I see down the road as being potentially good cases are long haul COVID cases. Uh , the people that are suffering, you know, these , uh, very difficult symptoms , uh, for a long period of time after they've, you know , recovered from Covance. Uh, I think those are going to be good cases. And so I want, that's one thing I want to look at , uh, to focusing on in 2021 that we didn't have in the past.

Nancy L. Cavey:

And I absolutely agree with you. I, in fact, over the course of the last couple of weeks, I've written a number of articles about long haul COVID cases. Um, and I think there's a richness here, unfortunately, and that people will have cognitive issues. They'll have pulmonary issues, they'll have cardiovascular issues. Uh , they're probably going to vascular issues. Um, and while we all realize that the social security administration doesn't have a policy or procedure , um, were any statements in regard to COVID , uh , long haul haul cases. I think that these are cases that can be worked in, in the context of those types of listings or, or impairments. Um, so what , what else are you going to be doing , uh , in this long haul COVID 19 , uh , attraction process for, for your perfect client?

Sharon Christie:

Well, I think again, I think it's, it's, it's, it's refining what I'm already doing , uh, YouTube videos that are specific to long haul COVID articles that are specific to long haul COVID issues , uh, and , and breaking them down into like, as you, as you've known that, you know, what we know so far, cognitive is one, respiratory is one , um , uh, heart blood clotting issues is one, and keep it for me, keeping up with the science, if there are more symptoms that seem to be coming to the forefront that are disabling in nature, and then educating the professionals that refer cases to me about that, you know, this is something to be looking for because we see this coming up a lot. Um, you know, I've had calls on it. We have a couple of cases right now, and it's only going to be coming on more and more. So , uh, I , I, again, I feel like for me, it's to continue to do what I've done, but I'm going to refine it. That's going to be , uh , something that is very specific that, that I work on for 2020.

Nancy L. Cavey:

Yeah . One of the things I've started to do is hijack, if you will, the news reports about COVID and COVID , uh, so that's , that's an idea that I would throw out to our community to attract those perfect clients. And this has been a cool discussion. And I , I thank you for taking the time before we finish , though. I want you to give us your one exclusive takeaway tip, and I will give the audience mind . So what is your number one exclusive takeaway tip from sharing?

Sharon Christie:

My number one tip on this issue is don't be afraid to say no, if it's not your perfect client, don't take it. And if it is your perfect client, jump on it, but don't be afraid to say no , because too many times lawyers, particularly female lawyers feel like, Oh, I have to help this person. Don't get sucked into that. You're not a lawyer because you said no.

Nancy L. Cavey:

So my tip is that book attracting perfect customers by Stacy hall and John Jan , B R O G N I E Z. That really has been my Bible in , um, developing our concept of the perfect client. And I use it as a training, not only for my , uh, my intake staff and my paralegals, but even my receptionist, because I want everyone in my office to understand my concept of what a perfect client is, how they think, how they use their emotions, what, what the , um, what they are looking for me to deliver , uh, who I can associate with in my flanker markets, if you will. And to me, that's been a really , uh , key exercise that has helped us produce our perfect client. So thanks Sharon. I appreciate it. And I look forward to talking with you again, and I hope our audience has enjoyed , um , this episode of the powerhouse practice. Thanks.