Vicki Hogue-Davies 2013-09-04 23:11:43
Genuine Customer Service and the Fast Resolution Of Cases Are the Tenets of This Louisville Firm Sam Aguiar opened his law firm in late 2010 with three employees, a hand-written budget and enough money to keep the firm afloat for four months. Less than three years later, Aguiar Injury Lawyers employs 40 people, including nine attorneys, and has offices in two locations. The high-volume firm handles cases resulting from automobile accidents, workplace mishaps, nursing home abuse and other personal injury areas. “Getting started, we went through a lot of growing pains and I worked many long nights,” the 31-year-old Aguiar says. “My wife, Janelle, and I had just started dating and she and my son Evan, who is now 13, spent many long nights and weekends with me at the office. I couldn’t have made it through the hard times without their devotion and support.” “I had no business background and made every wrong turn you can make when starting a small business,” he continues. “I didn’t pay myself for the first six or seven months we were open. Everything I made I put back into the office, to add a staff member or upgrade software or something, and, lo and behold, we actually grew pretty fast. Having the office grow to a point where it is full of great people has allowed me a lot more free time to enjoy with Janelle and my boys.” The couple also has a 1-year-old son, Owen. A chance meeting on an airplane helped enable Aguiar, who was then working for another personal injury firm, to open the practice. Flying back from London in 2009, where the native of Rhode Island and avid sports fan had gone to see a New England Patriot’s game, Aguiar conversed with his seatmate about their respective careers. Months later, he got a call from the man. “His nephew had been in a car accident that left him in a coma,” Aguiar recounts. “The police were saying it was all his fault and they were going to file criminal charges, if he survived. I was able to get a hold of the 911 audio, where the other driver didn’t know she was recorded and admitted the accident was her fault. It was my first opportunity to work a big, high-profile case with decent insurance. I hadn’t planned to open up on my own only two years into practicing, but this enabled me to do it.” The Need for Speed Whether he is building a business or helping clients, accomplishing things quickly is key to Aguiar’s dynamic and entrepreneurial style. “Our firm is premised on speed and customer service,” he says. “We need to do things fast and get claims resolved quickly. When you talk about that first two or three weeks after an injury, there is so much going on. The client can’t work; he or she doesn’t have a car or health insurance. We need to make sure that claims are set up with the client’s auto insurance so they can go get medical care that will be paid for. With all that going on and their livelihood at stake, we can’t be in an environment where we accept a case and then just sit on it and let things happen. We need to make sure we are assertive and get it done as quickly as possible.” The firm’s customer service philosophy is concisely laid out in a six-step approach called “The Aguiar Assurance.” Along with a large staff to work the claims, it includes a no-fee guarantee, a guarantee that attorney’s fees won’t be higher than what clients receive, and biweekly case updates to keep clients informed. Because he is sensitive to the stress that people who contact the firm are undergoing, Aguiar requires that all calls be answered, 24/7, by a real person. “We want to be sure all of our clients are spoken to in an empathetic tone, so we don’t use voicemail,” he says. “Being able to call somebody who is your advocate and hear a warm, comfortable voice is important. It is like when you have a great nurse at the hospital who cares about you.” During business hours staff members answer all incoming calls. Outside normal hours, the firm uses a Nashville-based call center. When hiring attorneys, case managers, paralegals and other staff , Aguiar looks for people who can relate and empathize with the firm’s predominantly blue-collar clients. “We want them to feel like they are talking to a cousin or a brother. We hire attorneys who don’t think they are too good to do anything and who don’t think they are better than anyone,” he says. “They are motivated by contingency fee work and are hungry and aggressive. “I was at a hotel once and saw a sign that said ‘no is not an option,’” he continues. “I have people here who don’t say ‘no,’ instead they ask ‘what can we do for you?’ and ‘how can we help you?’” Attorneys and staff are divided into teams or “pods” to work on cases. Each attorney has two staff members in their pod. While all the attorneys have private offices, most don’t choose to work in them, Aguiar says. “Most of the attorneys choose to sit with their staffs.” Cool Off ice Culture The feeling of teamwork at Aguiar Injury Lawyers is enhanced by the office culture. The dress code of jeans and T-shirts helps both employees and clientele feel more comfortable. A personal trainer located in the same building puts on fitness camps during working hours for law firm staff . “A ‘learning library’ stocked with motivational books, James Patterson stuff and basically anything you can read for pleasure or to feel better about yourself is available to employees,” Aguiar says, adding that staff can visit it during work hours or take books home with them. Another office highlight is the lounge. “It is in the back of our office and has three rotating craft beers on tap,” he says. “Employees can have one beer if they want—that is kind of the rule—don’t drink to excess. Also, don’t drink in front of the clients. They have fun with it and nobody abuses it.” There is also a Golden Tee golf game to play and free lunches a few times a month. “We’ve had a ‘Food Truck Friday’ where we hand out Monopoly money and people can buy what they want,” Aguiar says. “They brought their families.” Many staff members have children and the office has a dedicated area with computers for employees who might need to bring their children to work occasionally. The firm also offers half-days on Fridays. “Anyone who wants to work a half-day can,” he says. “We usually close early anyway. I work a lot of weekends and Friday afternoon is my time off and I always feel guilty if I leave and make everyone else stay.” “It is a cool culture we have here,” Aguiar says. He adds that a mentor who helped inspire the culture is Arnie Malham, the head of Nashville’s CJ Advertising, the firm’s ad agency. “We had a trip down there when he took us on as a client and after seeing their culture and how they operated and did things, we did some of that here.” Community Partners Giving back to the community is important to the firm’s staff . Through its platform Sam Cares, which is dedicated to “building stronger communities through commitment, compassion and leadership,” the law firm and its staff contribute time and money to various causes. “We realized during our first two years that a lot of people need help,” Aguiar says. “As our office continued to grow and continued to resolve cases we would take a large chunk of that and just reinvest it in the community, but we didn’t really have a platform. A group would come to us and say ‘you know we have this going on this weekend’ and ask us to donate to it and we’d say ‘sure, why not.’ We just did what made us feel good and we felt like we were giving back to the community. We finally decided to develop a dedicated platform to help out those in town who do the best work for the community and to target those who need help. Sam Cares is our outlet for doing that and for being community partners.” Just a few of the causes the firm has helped are the Special Olympics, the local children’s hospital and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. To raise money for Special Olympics’ athletes, more than 20 employees jump in the river each year during the “Polar Plunge” event. Money is raised for the children’s hospital through a daylong kickball tournament and support of the Komen Foundation helps provide for mobile breast cancer screening and education in the Louisville area. They have also participated in holiday turkey and gift basket drives to provide food, clothing and other items to neighborhoods in need. Helping clients in need is what Aguiar finds most rewarding about his work. What I love the most is the last 15 minutes we get to spend with clients after their cases are done,” he says. “These are people who really need an advocate. Resolving a case and putting somebody’s life back together who is from a blue-collar environment is rewarding. Our clients’ lives are going to be twisted upside down if they don’t get their medical bills paid and receive their wages. The feeling in our office is always great when you bring the client in to discuss the results of the case and hand them a settlement check. To see them walk away with a smile, now that’s awesome.”
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