COVID lockdowns were a rare opportunity for ordinarily busy solo lawyers to build deeper relationships with clients, referral sources and family, and to optimize cases for success. Plaintiffs’ attorney, Robert Washuta, utilized the new-found time to do just that.
Robert Washuta believes the practice of law is a noble pursuit. He strives to provide a real service for people who need it. No novice to the practice, Bob knows from experience that building lasting relationships with clients is the key to thriving as a solo plaintiffs’ attorney.
Bob found that the COVID lockdowns created an opportunity to cultivate deeper relationships with clients and referral sources and make sure his brand didn’t fall out of sight during the pandemic.
From circulating newsletters that solved some of the challenges his clients were facing (in every area of their life) to #hashtagging his firm on face masks, Robert vastly improved his marketing strategy, setting him up for much success in 2021.
Bob recently sat down with Law Firm Suites’ content manager Megan Hunt to discuss how he did it.
You can watch the interview here (or read the full transcript below), where you will learn:
- How Robert managed to navigate his firm through lockdown mandates in two states.
- How tried and true newsletters offering nuts and bolts solutions to clients’ challenges fostered strong and healthy relationships.
- When Bob realized that direct marketing is most successful it provides help instead of pushing the firm’s successes.
- The interesting conversations Bob had after having face masks printed with #Hashtag messages!
- Increasing outreach to referral sources by curating and maintaining an online presence through an updated website strengthened LinkedIn profile and increased Twitter activity.
- How he optimized stagnant cases so he is ready to “dive-in” once COVID restrictions lift.
- How Bob shifted his firm’s focus to an attorney referral/client referral business.
- How Bob’s professional life improved by having extra time to spend with his wife and children.
Megan: Good morning. As you know, my name is Megan and I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to join me in this call, as we discuss how COVID has impacted your business in 2020.
Bob Washuta: Okay. I’d be happy to tell you how things have unfolded for me in light of the COVID.
Megan: Thank you. So the easiest question of the day is can you share with us your name, your law firm name and what practice area that you’re in?
Bob Washuta: My name is Bob Washuta or Robert Washuta and my firm is the Law Offices of Robert Washuta and our practice area is exclusively plaintiff’s personal injury work.
Megan: Okay. And how would you characterize your practice before the pandemic? How were you doing?
Bob Washuta: Business was fine before the pandemic. In 2019, we’d have that closed out a very successful year for us and we were looking forward to another successful year in 2020,
Megan: As news started to unfold about the pandemic, at what point did you realize that COVID may have an impact on your practice?
Bob Washuta: Well, I guess it was when the Governor of both New York and New Jersey, since our practice is in both States, indicated that they were taking the serious steps of shutting down the non-essential businesses, which would prohibit us really from coming into the office for a period of time until they took steps to reopen the non-essential businesses. So it was at that point that it became a concern for us.
Megan: So you didn’t have to just worry about one Governor’s mandate for your practice, you had to worry about two. Did that ever become kind of overwhelming when trying to figure out when to go into an office or when to meet with people face-to-face?
Bob Washuta: It was a problem in a sense that both States were shutting down the non-essential businesses, but in one sense they sort of dovetailed each other, New York and New Jersey, from that point of view. So it wasn’t as if one state, for example, New Jersey or versus New York was going to shut down, non-essential businesses for an appreciably longer period of time than the other state. They seem to have worked sort of hand in glove in the metropolitan area together. So we kind had to deal with the crisis for both States in a similar fashion.
Megan: When did you start seeing changes and are you able to share what they were?
Bob Washuta: Yes. The changes we encountered in my practice, which again, is a personal injury practice, and it’s a practice based primarily on individuals – exclusively on individuals being hurt or injured – and where we started to notice the impact was through the lockdown or shut down of basically both States’ population, because our cases are generated by folks being out and about whether they are operating motor vehicles of any kind or whether they are walking, whether they are in store shopping and whether they are using hospitals and doctors for injuries or care, all of that sort of generates persons who get injured through no fault of their own. And when that population is basically told to stay at home, then the volume of people actually being out and about and getting injured in various ways decreases. So that’s sort of where we felt the impact. In other words, that the volume of the calls that we would normally be getting in years past just naturally dwindled because of the volume.
Megan: That makes sense because you need people to –
Bob Washuta: Be out and –
Megan: To be out and about. I never thought of it that way. So many lawyers realized that they would have to pivot in the way that they worked? Did you?
Bob Washuta: Yes, we did. When we were locked down, of course, we had to work exclusively from home. So, in effect we took a lot of our paper files and brought them literally to the house and worked on them from home until that period of time. And then as things lifted in terms of the non-essential businesses, getting back into play, again, it became easier in a sense to get back into the office and to run the practice, really for both home and in the office again.
Megan: Okay. That’s interesting. A lot of people did start taking their things with them. Many lawyers had to make changes in their marketing strategies. For example, traditional networking basically went out the window with social distancing. So how have you changed your marketing strategy during 2020?
Bob Washuta: We haven’t really changed it fundamentally in any material way. My practice is now in its 16th year. And of course, that has in our practice has always been a attorney referral and client referral business. So luckily for our practice, those contacts and those folks over the years were still there. And that source of business remains the same, albeit somewhat slower because they were – other, for example, other attorneys weren’t getting – who may be in a different type of practice, commercial or something like that, who would occasionally get calls for accident cases, their numbers of those kinds of calls were naturally dwindled too. So it slowed in that sense, but there’s been a steady stream of that work for us. So we really have sort of kept the same marketing focus.
However, we have tried to bolster our online presence a little bit more not in terms of any advertising directly for personal injury cases, but we’ve tried to bolster our website. We’ve tried to make sure our LinkedIn community and presence was solidified and strengthened. So we’ve taken a couple of online type of steps to make sure that our Twitter account became a little more active in our reaching out. And we’ve made a little stronger effort with getting in touch with, in our sense, our referral base, with our clients and our attorneys and reaching out to them and making sure that they know what’s been going on with our practice just to keep our name, in effect, in the back of their mind, should they need a personal injury lawyer or know someone who would.
Megan: Okay, so you pretty much took 2020 as the chance to just stay relevant with your current clients and the potential referrals that you could get from them?
Bob Washuta: I think that’s a fair way to say it. So, as I say, I think we’ve had – looking back now in 2020, it’s been a slower year for new cases, but it’s – I think percentage wise, if you look at the effect of the virus, I think it would be fair to say that it hasn’t really fallen off to such a large degree that we would we would think that there’s an issue there.
Megan: Okay. That’s good. That’s good to hear. Can you share an interesting marketing tactic you’ve used during COVID to gain more clients and has it succeeded?
Bob Washuta: I guess one of the things we have done is to reach out directly to our clients with more of a newsletter type publication that highlights some nuts and bolts issues that might confront their daily existence. Like for example, what to do when purchasing auto insurance or what to look for when you purchase auto insurance, to make sure that you’re not overpaying and that you’re paying for something that protects you. So we’ve done that and in fact, we have heard back from clients based on those types of either digital mailings or actual mailings in the traditional sense and said, “Hey, we’ve got that. Thank you for this or an issue came up, I’ll like to talk to you about it.” So sort of our direct marketing, I think back to our clients has born some fruit in getting people thinking about us and contacting us again.
Megan: That’s good to know. You don’t really hear a lot of people talk about newsletters that much, and the newsletters hold a lot of power when it comes to marketing and actually reaching your target audience because you’re sending it to your target audience directly.
Bob Washuta: And I think on that point, Meg, what we found to be of help and maybe other lawyers would find it as well is you’ve got to – we’ve been more successful when the newsletter has offered some advice as to help the client not so much, “Hey, we’ve done great things in our practice this past year. Look at the case results we’ve had”, for example. It wasn’t that. It was really a designed in a way to help them with issues in their own lives, apart from what we do as lawyers necessarily. And I think that resonates with someone. I think it reaches them in a way like, “Hey, this is information that I could use that is helpful to me dealing with whatever issue that we were kind of put on the table at that time.” So I think our focus was that way; our focus was to get information out to them that would help them, not necessarily some information out there that was kind of advertising related, like, “Hey, you know what? I don’t remember us and we were such a good lawyer for you and we’re still good lawyers and that type of thing.
Megan: Is there anything that you tried during COVID that failed, or it just didn’t work up to the expectations you had on it?
Bob Washuta: I think we’ve been lucky in that sense that I’d say we haven’t really struck out in that sense. I don’t have any – like for example, when COVID hit, we created some masks and in fact, if I can just stand up, I will show you what we did on that front. We’ve invested a little bit of capital in this concept, which if you can see it, it says – that’s our hashtag – L-O-R-W – Law Office of Robert Washuta can help. And we either sent those to some clients or when we would meet with clients in the office, when things sort of opened up again. We would give them some masks if they wanted them. Now, whether that has borne any fruit or not, if folks walking around see that and say, “Hey, what is that? Who is that? Or what does that mean?” I haven’t had a call or calls where people say, “We saw your mask” or “We heard from a friend who had your mask or an ex-client had your mask. Or now we have your mask” or something to that effect. So maybe that could be something that didn’t bear any fruit, but I wouldn’t really have any way to really track that.
Megan: I know when I first saw you with the math, I thought that was such an ingenious idea because everyone has to wear a mask now. There’s no getting around it at all. You can’t enter a building without having a mask and you can’t ride the subway without having a mask on and I thought, that’s a wonderful conversation starter. How did you even think about hashtagging yourself and developing mask for your company?
Bob Washuta: Well, you know what I have to tell you. It’s not my – I can’t take any credit for that. The credit goes to my partner. In our practice, I partner with my wife, Genie and it was her thinking that, hey, when this first happened, this might be a smart idea for us to do, and a helpful idea for people, something they really need. So it was – I’m not quite sure where she latched onto it, but when she raised it with me, I said, “Hey, yes, that sounds like a really good idea.” And I can tell you when I wear that that mask, the hashtag mask for our office, whether I’m on the subway or I’m standing in line for coffee at Starbucks, people will ask me, “Hey, what is that? What is L-O-R-W can help. And then you tell them and they say, “And what can you help with?” And then you tell them, “Listen, we were personal injury law office.” “Oh, really? Do you have a card?” So it does actually get some conversations going; people are curious about what would it really means?
Megan: Well, kudos to Genie because I definitely – I tell so many people about your mask. I went to school for marketing and advertising, so I love seeing branding – when people brand themselves, I’m like, “Way to do go. Way to do it.” So it always tickles me when I see you in your mask; it really does. Have you been able to use any of your COVID downtime to optimize your practice in any way? Pretty much like, have you been able to get things done that you’ve put off for a while?
Bob Washuta: Yes. You know what, that’s a very good point and we have, and I’m sure other lawyers have taken advantage of that too. But basically, as a personal injury practice, pre-COVID, things are always, in our firm, moving at a fast pace and with the courts open, I would be in court three, four times a week. And invariably court appearances, for whatever reason, if it’s a trial, then obviously it monopolizes all of my time until the case is over. But even other appearances, conferences or motions and things like that, it would take several hours of the day where you’d be in court, wait for your case to be heard, you have to come back to the office and so forth. So a lot of times, you’re not working on an eight to 10 hour a day in the office; you’re working on maybe a four or five-hour day in the office.
And so point B, without that, we really made it a priority to open up so many of the cases that had just been sitting for a while and do all of the pre-trial work that had needed to be done on these files. And we found that it is really been invaluable. Our files now are really up to speed across the board, so when COVID lifts, which we hope will be this coming year, sooner rather than later, our files are really in solid shape in cases that may have not gotten the attention they need it. We were able to sit and do the work that needed to be done; a lot of the preparation that has to go into a personal injury file, in terms of paperwork, be it medical records or getting records, making sure discovery bills, particulars, and all those kinds of things are out and up to speed. So yes, we’ve actually found that to be pretty profitable.
And it’s also had a good effect because a lot of lawyers I’m seeing that are, “Hey, the Washuta firm is really doing this, that, and the other thing and asking for this and doing that.” We’ve gotten a number of calls from either the lawyers where they’re carriers to say, “Hey, can we talk about settling the case?” Even though there was no impetus for a trial, they’re not worried about us going to court for having a jury trial, but I think they’ve looked at it like, “Hey, these guys are really moving things and maybe it’s a good time to talk to them and see if we can get the case settled.” So we found that to be really a big, big, big bonus, and kind of like an unforeseen, unintended consequence that we thought has been a good upside – silver lining in a sense.
Megan: That sounds good. We’ve heard a lot of people actually have taken their downtime and have used it to file maintenance and digitizing their files, making it easier for people to sign virtually, opposed to being in the office with them. Do you think that’s something that you would probably implement, like the e-signing of documents?
Bob Washuta: You know what, we have a really incorporated that so much, but in my practice, that type of thing is not really of a premium and in our sense, in our world, the biggest thing is for example, having signatures notarized and so forth. But the governors – both governors – have actually opened that up to doing it sort of what we’re doing now, virtually, for example, the number of cases, when I needed to, I’ll either Skype or FaceTime or Zoom the client and say, “I need you to sign these authorizations. I need you to sign this statement in my presence because I need to notarize it and they will, and I’ll see them signing it and then I can notarize it virtually. So we haven’t really needed them to sign it digitally with not me watching it as opposed to being able to have them do it as we’re doing it now, virtually.
Megan: Okay. How has the COVID-19 pandemic positively impacted your practice or your personal life?
Bob Washuta: Well practice wise, I think it would go to the point we just said a moment ago to repeat the fact that we were able to get on top of and use that time productively. We gained a lot of hours of being able just to work on files where we wouldn’t in our normal practice. So that’s actually, I think, the biggest bonus to our practice in that sense. And then B personally I guess the biggest – again, it’s very personal in a sense because my situation is I have three children, both, the two – one’s 26, one’s, 24, and one is 21. The two older ones have moved back into the house with us, even though they work and live in New York City, but took the opportunity to come back to live with us. And my younger child is a senior in college. She left for school and then her school was open, but now she’s back home. I don’t know whether their semester’s going to be – she’s going back or not to school, but my point is the kids grew up fast and when they’re young, you just love having them around and then all of a sudden they’re gone and it actually had that opportunity to bring them back. Now, I don’t know how happy they are back being home for a while, but I can tell you, my wife and I are really happy that every night, for example, we have a family dinner together and across the table, our three kids, and they tell us what’s going on in their lives. And we listened to them and we realized that, you know what? This is probably, but for some crazy development will be the last time in our lives that we’ll really be together as a family of five and have them at home because they’re rarely on the verge of having their own lives and having their own lives outside house. So that is, to me, the best thing about COVID is really the fact that I jealously got to have my kids back in my life – in our lives – on a daily basis, which I missed after they left for college and went on with their lives. That part of it was really gone.
Megan: That’s so heartwarming because I tell everybody that too, like quarantine was great for me because I got to spend time with my kid. So it’s really nice to see that I’m not the only one who’s like, “No, I like family time.” It’s so important, especially in today’s social climate and just how everything is so fast paced, being able to sit down with your family and just like breathe and talk. It’s a lost art. It’s amazing.
Bob Washuta: It’s true.
New Speaker: I’m so happy to get to experience that. You’ve actually been one of the lawyers who have been coming into our office on a regular basis. When you do come into the office, how are you keeping safe and do you feel safe overall?
Bob Washuta: I absolutely feel a hundred percent safe here at Law Firm Suites. I think the office has incorporated the basics that we hear about so much – social distancing, you’re washing hands and keeping our distance, masking up. So yes, I’ve never felt threatened or unsafe here and B I think that – it’s easy, I think to feel safe here. I think that other attorneys, other folks, who are not attorneys and are using the space, they’re very mindful of it. When folks come by to my office to ask questions or just to touch base, we’ll always mask up; we’ll always stay an appropriate distance away. We have the luxury of opening windows in our offices, if need be. So that has – it’s never really been a concern for me here.
Bob Washuta: And the building, quite frankly wherever you are is, I think also, or from my view, takes the precautions very seriously – limits the folks in the elevators, has separate entrances and separate exits that we didn’t have before in terms of walking in the lobby area; has marked spots on the floor as to where to stand as appropriate distances, waiting for elevators. The vendors downstairs that we have the snack places and food places, they are masked up; they limit the number of people inside their offices and so forth. So I think it’s really a non-issue here. I really do.
Megan: That’s good to hear. I definitely know that the staff at Law Firm Suites takes pride in trying to foster a safe environment and the building definitely has stepped their game up in retrospect.
Bob Washuta: I would say this just in closing on that Megan, no one, I think if they haven’t been here and they’re worried about COVID, it’s not an issue to think about, “Hey, is Law Firm Suites an unsafe place to come to work?” Because I don’t think that’s the case. You can scratch that from your thinking. Maybe there are other issues that may impact whether you think it’s – you’re exposed in the city or not, but not within our office environment.
Megan: Yes, that actually was my next question was what advice you would give to other attorneys that are nervous about coming back into the office on a regular basis? What would you tell them based off of your experience?
Bob Washuta: I would tell them it’s not an issue that it shouldn’t even factor into whether they think it’s safe or not to be here working. So period, end of sentence, really.
Megan: So you’ve experienced the working from home and working in the office during 2020. Do you think coming into the office has helped with your productivity or your business development?
Bob Washuta: Yes. I love coming to the office. Working at home is fine, and I don’t not enjoy that, but there’s something still, to me, and maybe it’s because I’ve been working for a very long period of time. There was something that is a certain mindset about coming into your office, sitting behind your desk and going to work, I think that you can’t really replicate it in your home environment as much as you think you would like to. So I really love still coming to the office and I think it has a psychological benefit of making you focus and productive. And I think it also has a social aspect which I think is very important. I never for a moment and I know a lot of lawyers and a lot of folks and a lot of my colleagues here that I’m friendly with and so forth, really thought, “Hey, why do I need an office anymore?” I never, and my wife never thought for a second of walking away from where we are and having an office presence. I think to go otherwise, it’s a personal preference. I think is short term thinking. We’re long-term thinking folks in terms of our practice. So, I think if you have a viable practice and you want to put out that perception that you have a viable practice, I think you need a viable practice life with space and so forth. So that’s just a personal preference for us, but we would never think that this new environment means you don’t have an office space anymore. We never sort of thought that was the case and we think that there was going to be a coming out on the other end of this at some point fairly soon.
Megan: What are one or two things that motivated you to push forward during the pandemic?
Bob Washuta: Oh, I seek primarily trying to help our clients as best we could. Our clients are usually in many circumstances, in bad straits to begin with. Sometimes they’re out of work or they can’t work the way they’ve worked before because of injuries and so forth. And their personal injury cases are important to sort of your lifeblood. And then you factored onto that the COVID for a lot of folks, and it was kind of like a double whammy for them. So it really kind of focused us in on, “Hey, you know what? Some of these folks are really, really in desperate straits financially and in large measure because of what happened to them in their cases that we deal with. So we’ve really made a very conservative effort, I think, in light of the virus for them to push their cases as we were talking about before and see if we can get their cases close in a way that we might not have been able to do for them pre-COVID. So I think that’s really been the biggest motivation for us is knowing that there are a lot of folks out there who are thinking us, thinking about their case, and we want to try to do the best we can by them, as fast as we can.
Megan: That’s good to hear that you really take into consideration the people behind your cases, because a lot of people don’t really think about the people. It’s just how fast paced life is just like, okay, “Well, I’m going through my own thing” and don’t really think about how their clients are being affected. So it’s really good to hear, it’s refreshing to hear that you actually took the time to think about your clients and their actual cases and getting them through, because it has been a hard time for so many people across the board.
Bob Washuta: Exactly. We’ve always approached the practice of law as a noble one that is there to provide a real service for people who need it and COVID has focused or highlighted even that kind of a concern for us and that kind of approach, even to a larger degree, if that was even possible.
Megan: I’m curious to how you stayed in touch with, or you’ve leaned on your attorney colleagues during the pandemic. This could be Law Firm, Suites members and non-Law Firm Suites members.
Bob Washuta: You know what, as, as I say, we’ve tried to stay in touch with our colleagues because our practice is so dependent upon our relationships. So we’ve tried to reach out to them and have them reach out to us, ask them how they’re doing; if there’s things that we could do to sort of help them; work through the COVID crisis; things that we’re doing, if they’re having problems about whatever their practices are and try to share our thoughts with them about how to handle problems. So we tried to be helpful to them and to stay in touch with him. And with respect to Law Firm Suites, as I was saying before, with the presence of the office, it’s one of the real things that we love about having an office is that we get to come in and see and walk around the space and see our colleagues and say hello, and how you’re doing and so forth and for them to know we’re here and they can come into our office and ask questions if they need it, and also to see them and see how they’re doing. We’ve made a point of trying to do that with the many relationships and colleagues we’ve had here. We’ve now been in Law Firms Suites, I don’t know, 10 years, probably more than that at this. So the folks here that – and there’s been a number of folks here who have been here for a very long time, so we know them. There’s some folks who now moved on to – with the virus or otherwise – so we try to keep in touch with them as well. But those sources are valuable; they really are. So we put a premium on nurturing that and being good friends and colleagues to our other attorneys.
Megan: Can you share something funny or interesting that has happened to you in 2020 or in your business?
Bob Washuta: Oh boy. I’m the wrong guy sometimes to ask about the funny things, although they do happen to me. I’m like the guy who hears the funny joke and really loves it and then wants to tell somebody two hours later about that joke I heard and it just – I can’t pull it up. So you know what, I’m going to pass on that now, Meg, but if something comes to me, I will get back on with us.
Megan: Give it to me, yes. What is your outlook on 2021? I know it’s the end of the year and everyone is planning and setting their goals for next year. What do your goals look like?
Bob Washuta: I think for us, 2021 is going to be a tough year in the sense that as a personal injury practice that is geared toward a courtroom practice, I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of courtroom activity in 2021. I think that we’ll probably start to come out of the virus in a meaningful way and numbers of new cases, I think will decrease. I think we’ll have – I think folks will – I don’t want to get too political, but I think with the new administration and a new emphasis on doing the right things, I think people will – and with the vaccine, the number of cases will decrease dramatically and which will sort of get us going to the other side. But I still think in terms of courtroom practice, there’s going to be a period of time that it’s going to take for people to get a) comfortable, feel safe, to be shoulder, to shoulder, with people in very close environments, with lots of people and that’s what the courthouses are like with juror, summonses and so forth. So that aspect, I think will still be pretty much what it was through 2020 from February onwards. But I still think that if we look at 2020, we were successful in being able to negotiate around that and get cases resolved for our clients in a way that’s fair to them. And I think that’s going to be pretty much what will happen in 2021 as well. It’ll be a lot of trying to get cases resolved outside of the confines of the courtrooms. And then hopefully 2022, we’ll be back to where we were in 2019 before the pandemic really hit us.
Megan: That’s good to hear. I’m glad that you have high hopes for 2021 and that they’re realistic and attainable. A lot of people set goals that drive them insane, trying to reach, and they don’t use the logic behind certain things. And I just also want to thank you again for taking the time out to interview with me. This conversation was really informative. It was a really good conversation. You gave me a lot to go on and I really appreciate that.
Bob Washuta: Thank you, Meg. My pleasure.
Megan: All right. Well, I hope you have a good day and thanks again.
Bob Washuta: Thank you.
Megan: A hundred times appreciate you.
Bob Washuta: You bet.
Megan: All right. Have a good day.
Bob Washuta: Thank you.