Be amazingly responsive: This involves having the technology to be able to receive, identify and respond to calls, emails and, nowadays most importantly, text messages incredibly fast. So often, clients and referral partners comment on how quickly I respond to their questions or concerns. People aren’t used to this — especially from lawyers. These people will be your biggest cheerleaders and you can convert those feelings of goodwill into online reviews, referrals and repeat customers.
The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick DeMedeiros.
Rick DeMedeiros, the Founder of DeMedeiros Injury Law, is a workers’ compensation lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, a certified mediator, and a YouTuber who recently started his own channel called, The Work Comp Guy. Rick is passionate about helping injured workers and has been recognized consecutive years by Super Lawyers Magazine as a top-rated attorney in his field, an honor reserved for only 5% of Georgia attorneys. Rick lives in suburban Atlanta with his wife and two young daughters.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?
Yes, from high school on, I knew I wanted to be an attorney, but I wasn’t entirely sure in which area I would specialize. In college, I thought I’d end up doing something related with real estate. However, by the time I graduated from law school, I was already gravitating toward workers’ compensation. I spent the first five years after law school representing insurance companies, but did not find the work rewarding — at all. So, in 2009, I left and began representing injured workers exclusively.
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
Across the board, workers are taken for granted on a daily basis, and even more so when they are injured on the job. Since I’m fluent in Spanish, a good portion of my clients are Hispanic and these cases are even more rewarding as this community in particular has often been marginalized and taken advantage of when it comes to how they are treated. Helping injured workers is my niche. It may sound cheesy, but it means a lot to me knowing that I had a direct, positive impact on someone’s life and their future.
You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Being a good listener. Lawyers love to hear themselves talk, but so often much is missed because we don’t know how to actively listen. This doesn’t just mean letting your client talk and waiting to jump in with what you want to say. Actively listening means understanding what they’re saying, but also what they mean — which are not always the same thing.
I once had a client who called upset about one late check. Now, this is quite common in workers’ comp, but he was really, really upset. Like — going off the deep end — upset. As I listened to him closely, I realized he wasn’t really upset about the check per se, he was upset and ashamed that he felt like he was failing as a man and as the provider of the house. His injury had impacted not only his body, but also his mind and his ego — his perceived feelings of worth of what it meant to be a “man” had been shattered. When I really heard what he was saying, I was able to address the real source of his pain and we talked it out. He was able to calm down and realized that his injury did not define him — neither as a man nor as a human being.
2. Compassion. It’s easy to become cynical and I can’t deny it happens to all of us — myself included. We hear the same stories day after day, week after week, year after year. It’s easy to get jaded and cynical. But I try to realize that, while I’ve dealt with these issues many times before, my clients are often dealing with a disabling work injury for the first time. People can tell when you’re rushed and I try to spread out my client meetings so they feel like they are my only client. People deserve to be treated like human beings — not a case file.
I once had an incredibly cynical client — former military — salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He’d previously had a bad experience with a local attorney and was jaded. I couldn’t even guess how many times I spoke with him over the course of his case. Each conversation was a minimum of 45 minutes — often much more. After his case settled, I’d still reach out to him and his wife to check-in on him and see how he was doing. On more than one occasion, he has commented to me how much it meant to him that I would call him — just to see how he was doing — even though, as he put it, “you had already made your money. You didn’t have to call me, but you did — and it meant the world to me that you really did care.”
3. Responsive. You’d be shocked the reaction you get when you respond to a client within 5 minutes. Now, am I able to drop what I’m doing and do this all the time? Of course not. However, nowadays most of my communication with clients happens via text message or email, so if I see a client question come through on my case management software, I will try to answer the question immediately. This avoids having to write myself a reminder to call back or respond later. So often I have had clients react like, “wow! I’ve never had a lawyer be as responsive as you — thanks!” Clients know you’re busy and when you take the time to respond sooner, rather than later — they appreciate it so much.
Case in point — I had a client who had many issues going on with regard to his medical treatment getting delayed, opposing counsel was playing all sorts of games, and the client was having a hard time at home with family issues as well. We eventually resolved his case issues and got him a great settlement. To this day, he still refers me clients based solely on the fact that I was so responsive and would never let a day pass without returning his messages.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
Yes, absolutely. They say luck happens when opportunity meets preparation. I would say luck happens when opportunity meets preparation and purpose. You have to know what you want and which direction will take you there. Purpose means being able to spot the right opportunity — not just any opportunity — and capitalizing on it. When this happens, it looks like it was just pure luck. Let them think that!
Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?
Is success in the law dependent on going to a top-tier school? Absolutely not. I went to a very good school, but it probably wouldn’t be categorized as a “top-tier” school in the traditional sense. However, I do believe going to Georgia State University College of Law did have a bearing on my success. Both before and after law school, I have been told many, many times by “older” lawyers who went to top-tier schools that they found students who went to GSU were better prepared and harder workers than students from “top-tier” schools. Geography also plays a part because GSU is right there in downtown Atlanta — literally within walking distance to the biggest, best, and most influential law firms in the state. GSU has a lot of non-traditional students and the general vibe is that everyone is there to study, learn and hustle.
Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?
I would tell myself to find Elon Musk and become his best buddy and first investor. Seriously though, I would tell myself to find local mentors who practice some type of injury law. I would tell myself to have fun, but to also find those people who will help you crystallize your vision and give you some purpose. I was a bit directionless in college with regard to exactly what kind of lawyer I wanted to be, so it would have been great to develop some personal relationships with lawyers to serve as early role models and allies in my journey.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
This one’s easy. Helping people who are hurting both physically and financially. If I can be there for them during that most difficult time, then with a lot of hard work and persistence, they will (hopefully) leave my office at the end of the case for the last time in a much, much better position, both physically and financially, than the first time we met. If I treat them right, with respect and dignity, then hopefully they will trust me enough to refer their loved ones to me in the future.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
During the pandemic, I started my own YouTube channel on the side. I’m not expecting it to make me money or to make me into the Casey Neistat of workers’ comp, but I do hope the videos will be an entertaining resource to people looking for answers to their workers’ comp questions. There are many very informative lawyer videos on YouTube, but they can be very dry and, well, boring. My aim is to be informative, yes, but also to make the information entertaining and a bit cheeky and humorous.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
Broadway! Just kidding. My aim is simple — continue to grow so I can help as many injured Georgians as possible. As the pandemic (hopefully) starts to subside soon and the economy begins to get going again, more people will be back to work and that unfortunately results in more work injuries. We’ll be there to help.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
One war story that comes to mind involved a former client with very serious injuries. He fell off the roof of a house and landed in a seated position. The claim was denied because the statutory employer (person who subcontracted the job to the direct employer) said, and ultimately testified under oath, that the accident did not happen on his job site. I knew he was lying, so I scheduled the deposition of the direct employer to be held at dinner time — at his personal residence. He didn’t show up, but admitted on speakerphone that the statutory employer was not only lying, but also threatened the direct employer that if he didn’t lie, he would no longer provide him with any jobs. The cat was out of the bag. The case was accepted and recently settled after years of free medical treatment for my client. It’s amazing the results you get when you invite yourself over to someone’s house for dinner and a deposition!
In the age of Covid-19, we are having a lot of depositions via Zoom. This can sometimes lead to some funny misunderstandings. Recently, defense counsel was deposing one of my clients, who was at home testifying on Zoom. Defense counsel asked him where he was located and my client said, “I’m on the toilet.” He quickly realized how that sounded and added, “No, no, I’m just sitting here — I’m not doing anything. I have a small child and this is the only place in the house that is quiet.” We got a good laugh.
Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?
Yes, my team and I have been working remotely since last year. I prefer working remotely and I have found that my clients don’t mind having meetings via Zoom or telephone, instead of in-person. My clients are generally of modest means, so this actually saves them money on gas. I am able to schedule more meetings in a day and am able to start work earlier in the morning and later in the evening.
For the future, I think there will be a time period after the pandemic where people will continue to work remotely or hybrid. However, as we get farther away from the pandemic, I think people will eventually move back into in-person, well, everything again. However, I think there will now always be a place for remote work and any stigma previously associated with it is generally gone. I think casual Fridays will be replaced with remote Fridays. My advice for aspiring lawyers is to adopt technology — don’t be afraid of it.
How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?
Most people worked remotely in some capacity during COVID and some court proceedings were handled virtually and guess what? The sky didn’t fall. The world didn’t end. I think this has shown us that a lot can be done efficiently and effectively when we adopt technology that enables us to work virtually. It has forced lawyers and law firms to fast forward into the 21st Century. However, I’m still waiting for the holograms promised in science fiction shows and movies. Where are my holograms? Whoever is working on the hologram technology needs to speed it up.
We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?
Networking is still important and will always be important. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we took human interaction for granted. During the pandemic, we would schedule virtual coffee meetings with prospective referral partners. In-person lunch meetings and happy hours will be the norm again, but don’t discount the potential effectiveness of a virtual meeting — especially if this can expand your referral network into other states. Think big.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
Be top of mind. Be top of mind. Be top of mind. You may not see immediate results from your social media efforts, but just post consistently. Keep it going. You will notice over time that people will remember you. “Oh, you need a workers’ comp lawyer? Someone I went to high school with is a workers’ comp lawyer — I see his posts all the time. Let me connect you with him.” You don’t need gimmicks or wacky posts. Just post consistent content that tells people you are an authority in your field.
Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.
In my opinion, since the practice of law is a service industry, the 5 Things You Need to Become a Top Attorney should all revolve around the theme of: Service
Many lawyers might say you need to be SEO savvy, have a big advertising budget, hire the best people, etc., and they’re not necessarily wrong. But, to me, in order to be the best, you have to provide the best service when compared to your peers. Without excellent service, success will either not come, or be fleeting.
1. Be amazingly responsive: This involves having the technology to be able to receive, identify and respond to calls, emails and, nowadays most importantly, text messages incredibly fast. So often, clients and referral partners comment on how quickly I respond to their questions or concerns. People aren’t used to this — especially from lawyers. These people will be your biggest cheerleaders and you can convert those feelings of goodwill into online reviews, referrals and repeat customers.
2. Be amazingly honest about the bad: I can’t change the essential facts or law in a case, but I can control the quality of service I provide — no matter the ultimate result. If you’re up front about the bad aspects of a case, your client will appreciate you. From beginning to end, be honest about the chances of success and your client will have less anxiety knowing you will always be 100% honest about everything going on in a case — good or bad. Deliver bad news as soon as you get it. If you sit on it, your client will feel like you’ve already moved on or didn’t care. I’ve had many repeat clients who felt comfortable with me, even if their first case didn’t turn out so well due to unfavorable facts.
3. Be amazingly compassionate: This does not mean being so empathetic to the point that you get bogged down in the everyday emotions/lives of your clients. It means being sympathetic, mirroring the feelings they express, but showing them a way forward. People want to be heard and people want direction. Schedule a time to speak with a distraught client so you don’t have another commitment right after that conversation. Give yourself plenty of time to talk to them. People can tell when you’re rushing to get off the phone. Make sure you have enough time to talk through their feelings, but have a plan of attack ready to discuss so they know you’re still the leader and know what to do to move forward toward success. Above all, be good at making them feel special and like you don’t have 100 things left to do before the end of the day.
4. Be amazingly loyal: Check-in with past clients. See how they’re doing. Do the same with referral partners. Ask about their families. Be 100% sincere about it. People will remember you calling, emailing or texting just to see how they’re doing. Say, “I saw something today that reminded me of you, so I thought I’d reach out to see how you and your family were doing.” Even cynical clients will think — “wow, this lawyer I had last year got paid, has nothing to gain from me anymore, and he’s calling just to ….. see how I am?” For referral partners, call or email them with good news about a referral check that is coming their way and honestly express your gratitude for sending you business. Send them their favorite wine or alcohol and keep track of things that make them feel special, and not just another referral source.
5. Be amazingly self-promotional: If you don’t do it, no one else will (or as well)! Be quick to share good news and favorable results — far and wide. Show everyone that you consistently provide the best service that turns into excellent results. Do it in a way that isn’t to “salesy.” Thank your client for the honor of letting you obtain an excellent settlement that will change their lives. Describe your clients and referral partners as a team that achieved a great result and let everyone know about it. In this age of social media, you have to be your own best advocate and recruit your happy clients to share their recommendations of you. Excellent service creates excellent fans willing to support and expand your excellent reputation.
So yes, it’s all about service!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Elon Musk — he is such a smart guy and has done so much to push technology and innovation forward. He can have a conversation with his top engineers and understand all of the concepts just as well as them and can then go and have a silly conversation on a podcast with Joe Rogan. He’s just a fascinating dude.
Or, he could be an evil genius and I will regret everything I just said. Only time will tell.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!