Jobless woes trickle down to workers’ compensation law firms Premium content from Philadelphia Business Journal – by Jeff Blumenthal, Staff Writer Date: Friday, March 4, 2011
With claim filings down and more lawyers trying to muscle into their turf, plaintiff workers’ compensation lawyers have expanded advertising efforts to reinforce their brand names and garner more market share.
According to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, the number of reported workplace injuries and claim petitions dropped each year between 2007 and 2009 and was on pace to decline again in the first half of 2010.
Christian Davis, a partner at Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby who defends workers’ compensation claims, said case flow was fine in 2008 and there were enough cases in the hopper in 2009 to keep lawyers busy but by 2010, unemployment had risen so high, that there was a noticeable drop off in claims.
“And when you are not working, you are not getting injured and filing claims,” Davis said.
Davis said he has a construction company client that employed 250 union employees in 2008 but that number dwindled to 35 by 2010.
Plaintiff’s lawyer Sam Pond of Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano said that those workers still employed did not want to risk losing their jobs by filing claims.
Davis said cases are also moving faster through the judicial system at the request of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. He said cases that normally took a year to resolve are now taking only three to six months.
Early last year, John Pallante noticed a drop off in case flow for the first time since opening his own firm, The Law Offices of John D. Pallante, in 1997 that focuses on workers’ compensation plaintiffs work. He also saw lawyers that do not specialize in workers’ compensation advertising their expertise in that area. So he decided to advertise to increase name recognition.
Pallante dealt with CBS Radio and began airing spots on Sportsradio 610WIP, considered a good outlet for workers’ compensation ads because of its appeal to a blue-collar male audience. He became a sponsor for Phillies manager Charlie Manuel’s weekly radio show.
Pallante did not expect new clients to beat down his door and could only track a few cases back to advertising but he feels it did help with branding his firm. He now plans to dabble in Internet advertising.
“It’s really competitive,” Pallante said. “[Internet advertising consultants] told me workers’ compensation is the most competitive of all legal fields for advertising so I probably would not get the greatest results. There are only a certain number of cases and more lawyers are trying to get involved.”
The biggest plaintiffs’ workers’ compensation firm in Philadelphia – and biggest advertiser – was Martin BanksPond Lehocky & Wilson, which split last year as Pond and Jerry Lehocky left to start their own firm. Pond said last year he was dealing with the combination of flat case flow and a need to brand his new firm, which has aired spots on television, radio and in the Philadelphia Daily News. But he said the firm’s core business comes from longstanding relationships with unions, past clients, other lawyers and community groups.
Martin Banks, the firm’s new abbreviated name, has continued with its advertising since the split, with a focus on reinforcing its stature and experience to the local community by means of television, radio, print, billboard and Internet. Partner Matt Wilson said the firm is careful to not come off as ambulance chasers in its spots, focusing on the slogan “we wrote the book,” a reference to Wilson and firm founder George Martin’s co-authoring the state workers’ compensation practice manual.
“We never talk about how we can get our clients large cash settlements,” Wilson said.
Another firm prominent on the airwaves has been Krasno Krasno & Onwudinjo, which is based in Pottsville, but felt the need to amp up local branding efforts after opening a Philadelphia office in 2002.
“Martin Banks was dominating advertising, especially on the Web, then others began to get involved,” said managing partner Jason Krasno, grandson of the firm’s founder. “With the drop off in case filings, we knew we had to fight to keep our client base and gain more market share.”
Wilson predicted the competitive market will sort itself out moving forward.
“The advertising will get to a point of saturation and the economy is eventually going to return,” Wilson said. “But in the end, you have to be able to do the work or advertising will be a waste.”