Interview with Attorney Marc Lenahan
Click on one of the links below to read Marc's answer:
- What sets the Lenahan Law Firm apart from other firms in the area?
- Why did you choose to become a personal injury attorney?
- You limit the amount of cases that you take on – why is that?
- Tell us about some of the honors & awards that you have received.
- Why do you represent cases on a contingency fee basis?
In the decades since my first immersion into law, I've never encountered another injury law firm built the way Lenahan Law Firm is. As a matter of sheer math, our formula is the best I've ever seen or even heard of.
To understand what I mean by that, you need to understand a dirty & ugly secret about how most injury firms work: quantity. Most injury attorneys have over 100 clients each. Yes, each lawyer. Some have 1,000 clients per lawyer. And that is a secret because even those very clients have no idea. Those firms certainly don't post that fact on their webpage, and they don't tell clients when they first meet them that their case is unlikely to get even 2 hours' worth of attorney time a year.
Contrast that to the Lenahan Law Firm. We have less than 40 cases at a time here. Not 40 cases per lawyer, but 40 cases in our entire firm. And this firm has four incredibly accomplished attorneys with extremely different skills and backgrounds: Michael for medicine, Wes for appellate law, Tom for pioneering vision, and me. And each one of us knows every case because we talk over every case, and the case moves from attorney to attorney depending on who fits the next battle best.
An especially strange reality of quantity firms is that clients are frequently deceived by the number of attorneys they see on a commercial or website. They imagine that if a firm has 10 lawyers, they are hiring a 10-lawyer team. But that is just not the case. Most every firm like that has their attorneys working in isolation. They look like a team, but really they are all alone. And that is how the boss pays them, too. They get paid only on their own cases. So they never ask for help. And they don't offer it to each other, either.
But I put my money where my mouth is. Every one of my lawyers gets paid the same as the others on every single case we close here for a client. That means that the incentive is to help each other. The better our teamwork, the better the payday.
All of these things -- lawyers with different skills, so few cases, paying every lawyer every single time -- make for a very expensive way to run a law firm, though our fee to the clients is probably structured identically to the ones who don't do any of this. So don't look for too many firms to copy our model. But we think that there is no better way to represent each client and to secure for them the best results any firm could.
When I started law school after having worked in the computer chip industry for a few years, I chose the classes & professors that had the reputation for being the toughest because I thought they would prepare me the best. With those classes, which were focused on the laws surrounding corporate management and investing, I was picturing myself helping people defrauded in the stock market and by corporate scams.
And, totally by serendipity one day, I noticed that the lawyer who prosecuted one of the most important Supreme Court cases on investment law had his office just a few miles from SMU Law School. I sent him a letter telling him that, though I didn't know if he needed any help, I wanted to clerk for him. He hired me that week. To this day, I consider him to be among the best attorneys I've ever met.
But his practice was not only investment law work; he did a wide variety of law. And I soon found that I had an unusual knack for finding ways to help his personal injury clients. I loved doing it. So, after that summer, I took an after-school clerk position with the attorney who, at the time, was considered the greatest injury lawyer in Texas. And, even there, I was able to solve problems that others hadn't.
Why do we limit the number of cases we fight? Truth is, the question should be, "Why doesn't everybody?" Every time a law firm adds a client, they are decreasing the amount of time it can devote to the clients it already has. So adding clients must be done with an eye on the ethical obligation to all of the firm's clients.
Law is not a mass-production thing. If we were manufacturing staplers, then it would okay for us to try to improve profitability by increasing the quantity of staplers we could make so long as we could make good quality ones for everybody.
But there is nothing about representing severely injured clients that is made better by quantity — except a firm's profits. If a firm can secure $5,000 in fees just by having a legal assistant sending one form-letter, that is a very good investment for that firm. But it is a terrible way to get the best result for the client.
Each client is unique. Each injury is unique. If you mass-produce with severe injury clients' cases, you can make money, but your clients get a terrible shot at a proper result.
Consider a case where we secured $6,504,961, with $2,738,046 in fees and expenses, for our clients. The first lawyers the family spoke with told them to take $50,000 and be done with it. After we were hired, we found $1,000,000 of insurance we felt should apply. A year after that, we found another $5,000,000 that was hidden from us. And in order to get all of that for the family, we worked on their case most every single day, and studied well over 100,000 pages of documents to discover the secrets hidden in the nuances the documents weaved.
That can't be done if the lawyer only works on a case about 2 hours a year.
As attorneys, we are supposed to be held to a standard that requires that we place our clients' interests before our own. Pursuant to that ethical requirement, I believe that no injury attorney should be allowed to practice the way most actually do. We will never see that change, though. And our clients don't need it to.
Well, I've been very lucky in that I've received lot of awards and honors that sound very impressive. And some of them are very special to me. For example, I was elected the President of the National Crime Victim Bar Association for 2014, and that is an organization of hundreds of the most brilliant, passionate, and caring attorneys anywhere. So it is an honor I wear with great personal pride.
And if I handed my prospective clients a resume, they'd see a long list of other honors and awards, too, and we could talk about what each of them does, and doesn't, mean.
But if I had the choice between having a prospective client of ours read about my awards or, instead, have them look over the wonderfully kind testimonials so many of our clients have written for us, I would choose the testimonials every single time. By looking at what our clients have to say about what we were able to do for them, and who we were in their lives at the hardest of times, you can get a much more meaningful insight into why I'm so proud to do what we do for our clients.
There is nothing special about injury lawyers accepting cases on a contingency fee basis. That's what is meant when you hear commercials talking about, "only pay if you win." The technical way of saying that is "contingency fee, plus court costs and expenses."
There are firms that do injury work that will, instead, work on a retainer and an hourly-fee.
But that would be asking way too much of our clients. Given our reputation, and how hard we work on our cases, that would mean clients would have to provide retainers of $25,000, then they'd get billed at $500 per hour for four lawyers, they'd have to pay our expenses as we accrued them (which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars), and if we lost, they'd still have to pay our fee!
Who can afford that? And who would want to?
And when the breadwinner in a family is the injured person, and if the medical bills are growing by $15,000 each day, how could any person in that situation retain the kind of firm that we try so hard to be?
Instead, we get to say, "We have NEVER asked a single client to write us a check, ever." And we tell them, if we lose, all you'll get from us is a hug and an apology. Not a bill.
Wealthy defendants and insurance companies already try to gain an advantage through their resources. If they knew that every time they set a Hearing a client would have to decide if it wanted to fight for justice at the Hearing or feed its family, they'd set Hearings every day.
For us, the first step is a pretty simple one: everybody in the Firm talks about it together and we arrive at our initial strategy. Over the course of the case, that strategy might get tweaked a bit, or it might see radical turns, but we try to handle every one with a thoughtful battle plan.
Early steps almost always include one of us, most often me, getting to the location of the injury so that we can be sure we understand what happened the best that we can. I'm a huge believer in doing this. It has helped our clients over and over and over again, even if there was no way to predict how it would help at the time of the visit. And getting to do this is something that would be impossible to do if we had hundreds of cases.
We are a very focused firm. A rule of thumb for what kinds of cases we consider accepting is anything involving broken bones, emergency surgery, or worse. To us, those injuries are severe.
We also have rules of thumb for kinds of injury cases we do not take. Two examples are cases involving post-injury treatment by chiropractors (which I do not consider to be legitimate medicine nor an ethical business) and medical malpractice (which is an area of law that I consider to be so unjust that the odds of helping a client are too low).
I think my lawyers are extraordinary.
Wes Back: "Board Certified, Civil Appellate Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization." Wes has been with us since 2011. In the years since, he has successfully tackled complex issues of law for us over and over, and has proved that insurance policies apply despite an insurance company's swearing that they don't many times.
Tom, like Wes, is "Board Certified, Civil Appellate Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization." He and I worked together for one of the greats of injury law. Since the day I met him, nobody has been better at challenging me on my opinions and strategies than Tom is.
Very, very few firms have appellate attorneys on their team. Instead, they retain one on a case-by-case basis only when a case is being appealed. Those firms consider the idea of employing an appellate attorney full-time as "a luxury." But, the way we see it, it is far better to get the law correct from the beginning so that there is never an appeal to mess with. Having Wes and Tom for that is wonderful.
Michael, is also Board Certified, but his designation reads, "Board Certified, Personal Injury Trial Law — Texas Board of Legal Specialization." I have known Michael since before I was an attorney. When he accepted my offer to join our firm after having represented medical professionals for two decades, I was just thrilled.
Our headquarters is in Dallas, and we represent clients from all over the Dallas & Fort Worth area, of course. But we're not just a local firm. Because we represent only those with such important cases, we go to where the case requires—no matter where that is.
Most of our cases are for injuries that occurred somewhere in Texas, but we've achieved notable results under Kentucky law, Florida law, Michigan law, Virginia law, and Federal law. And in cases like 18-wheeler cases, where the trucking accident happened may be a totally different state than where we fight the lawsuit.
I became an attorney in North Dakota because it seemed to me that victims of oil rig accidents and 18-wheeler accidents were not being represented to my satisfaction, and the people of North Dakota are seeing more of those injuries than they ever dreamed.
Even so, we don't only accept clients in North Dakota and Texas. We get calls from all over the U.S. and the world from folks who have done intensive research in looking for the right lawyers.
And distance just about never matters. As I think about the clients for whom we've secured about a million dollars or more, most of them have never stepped foot in our office.
I am a simple man when it comes to the "counselor" role in "attorney & counselor."
For clients who are severely physically injured, I tell them to totally ignore the legal case and instead to do everything in their power to get as healthy as they can. If I can eventually hand them three million dollars or zero, their health matters more.
For our clients who are widows and widowers, when they're ready to hear it, I tell them that if, someday, they come to be lucky enough to find true love a second time in their life, they need to have a welcoming heart.
And to our clients who have lost a family member to a wrongful death, I tell them what a client of ours named Bill taught me in the writings his family found after he was killed by a construction company's negligence: "Live life to its fullest."