THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 146
Interview on 12.08.2021

Hosted By
Kevin Daisey

Featuring Attorney

James Coogan



Managing Partner of
Dwyer & Coogan, PC

About James Coogan

James Coogan is the Managing Partner at Dwyer & Coogan, PC in Illinois.

Jim was recognized by his peers as an Emerging Lawyer for 2020 and again in 2021. He was also honored by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, included in the 2020 group of 40 Lawyers under Forty to Watch. He is a regular contributor as Legal Analyst The Ben Joravsky Show, presented by The Chicago Reader. He also has previously lent his legal expertise to radio listeners of Chicago’s WCPT 820 AM.

Learn from his expertise and what trends are helping grow his firm on this episode of The Managing Partners Podcast!

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Kevin Daisey:
All right, we are recording. Welcome everyone. Thanks for tuning in for another live recording of The Managing Partners podcast. My name’s Kevin Daisy. And I’m your host. I’m also the founder of Array Digital. We are a digital marketing agency that helps law firms grow their practice. Today, I have a guests coming out of Chicago, Jim Coogan. Welcome to the show.

Jim Coogan:
It’s nice to be here, Kevin. Thank you for having me.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, yeah, no, thank you. So you’re in Chicago area. I’m on the east coast a little, I think we’re an hour difference in time. But got a great day ahead, I’m sure you do too. So we want to get right into it. Tell us the Jim Coogan story. So, tell us more about really what kind of triggered you at what point in your life, where you’re like “I’m going to be an attorney.” And walk us through that process and kind of your journey of getting to where you are today.

Jim Coogan:
So origin story part of it … I think there’s probably two components. At one point in time, I fancied myself as somebody who wanted to go to medical school. Back in high school, I liked biology. But then I think once I realized everything that went into going to medical school, I had some second thoughts. And then when I went to college, I was out at Boston college. The subject that really engaged me the most was philosophy. Took a bunch of courses in that and ended up double majoring in … I was taking business courses, but I didn’t love them. And the philosophy part of it really engage something about my curiosity about how the world works. And there are limited number of things you can do with a philosophy degree other than maybe teach philosophy to other people. So then I started to think about what, what other direction could I take this?

Jim Coogan:
And so that’s why I started looking at law school because at some point I recognize that you can … practicing as a lawyer as a career… But understanding how the law works, really is … It engages those same interests in how does the world work? How do people interact? How do we resolve disputes? And so when I tried to figure out where I was going to take a law degree, be interested in medicine, kind of dovetailed into working in the personal injury world, where every single one of our clients has some kind of medical issue going on. So, ultimately I didn’t understand it right away, but once I became an injury lawyer and started representing these clients, every single day, there are records to read, there’s doctors to talk to. Some of our cases are medical malpractice cases. So there has to be some fundamental understanding of those medical issues or you really can’t effectively represent these clients. So those two, I guess it was a curiosity about the world and, and the medicine that kind of fit together into this particular career path.

Kevin Daisey:
No, that, that makes a ton of sense. And I just, I love kind of how everyone’s story is different and all kind comes together. And they went into one thing and then they ended up eventually where they are today. But I was talking to a gentleman yesterday, he was an attorney, a patent attorney. And he went … He was an engineer and went to school … basically he was a scientist and an engineer, and found himself not knowing really what to do. And became a patent attorney because someone’s like, “Well, if you’re an engineer, you’re a scientist. You should be a patent attorney.” So that’s what he did. And so his dad was one and his brother and whatever. But its just interesting. His curiosity took him one direction and then he was able to pair that up with something else that he could do. So really interesting.

Kevin Daisey:
So, your firm is … We’ll put the website address down here but, dwyercoogan.com. If you guys can check that out, if you’re listening, tuning in, its dwyercoogan.com. Learn more about Jim’s practice and his company, it’s culture … So check out his website. So what are some of the specialties of the firm? And then what is, you personally, what are … What practice areas do you really specialize in?

Jim Coogan:
So our injury practice is sort of broad, in the sense that we do handle workers’ compensation cases that are on … If you want to call it that, the easier end of the spectrum, in terms of, it’s certainly not the same level of intensity as full blown litigation. There’s no discovery. The trials are not… You’re not selecting a jury in Illinois. It’s an arbitrator process. But we have kept that practice as part of the business, partly because sometimes that can be … They can just be easier cases to work on in terms of, they can resolved simpler. If things are smooth, then somebody gets hurt, they get their benefits. We make sure we manage that process, make sure they get their medical treatment, make sure they know their rights and then guide them through settling the case. And that can be kind of a complimentary business to everything else that we do, because the rest of it includes transportation, liability …

Jim Coogan:
We’ve gotten an increase in the number of nursing home cases that we’ve worked on. Unfortunately, it’s, it’s a tough area of the law in the sense that the United States has a … There’s been a cultural change over the last 20 or 30 years. There’s so many more people that are living longer and needing more intensive care towards the end of their lives, but they’re not always getting it. So, the way that we intervene there is … We’re, unfortunately… There are situations where there has been neglect. Where somebody’s … there’s fall issues, there’s skin care issues, there’s nutritional issues. So we’ve grown that part of our practice in the last couple of years.

Jim Coogan:
And we also handle the more complicated medical malpractice cases as well. Which, medical malpractice … there’s a whole additional kind of complication to that. Because you’re not only working with doctors, in terms of the witnesses who are going to talk about your client’s injuries, but you’re suing a doctor. And you need to employ the right kind of specialist who can say “Here’s what the standard of care was” for that particular treatment and “Here’s why that doctor didn’t do it.” And it’s a unique area of the law because you’re … even when you’re thinking ahead about how to try that case, people’s attitudes about doctors and hospitals can be an impediment because most people don’t want to believe that something like this would ever happen to them. They like to think that their Dr. Marcus Web MD would never make a mistake or … mistakes happen and medicine’s complicated.

Jim Coogan:
So it’s a whole unique kind of area of the law. So we kind of cover that whole gamut because it’s … I guess a lot of those things are still complimentary to each other. I know some lawyers have a narrower focus on just one thing or another, but we found that that still works for us.

Kevin Daisey:
No, to me, it makes it a lot of sense. And I’m a business owner and you’re a business owner, and I get it. That’s the one thing you got to keep thinking is you’re an attorney, and you went to school to learn the law, and to be an attorney. And you don’t get trained on how to run a business. But I think what you all are doing makes a lot of business sense. These bigger cases, they’re long, drawn out, they’re difficult. You have to have a bread and butter. You have to have stuff that you can keep the business alive and pay your folks, pay your people. So it’s … it makes a ton of sense to me, it’s similar to kind of how we operate I would say too. But you have have those things that keep the money coming in and keep you employed and keep you busy, while you can go after these bigger deals.

Kevin Daisey:
For my company, it’s kind of like for us, this website design … we’re a marketing company, of course, so websites are the life line of our company, because we can do that for a lot of folks. But when it’s a big, huge, complex marketing kind of strategy with tons of money behind it, it’s complicated. It takes a lot of time to, to bring in a client like that. It’s a lot of risk and a lot of things going on. So you have to have, what’s going to keep you afloat in which you can be really good at. So I think it makes really good business sense. So and to your point, some people get really, really, really focused. And they’re just the best at that one thing, but they’re going to be limited on how much they can get of that work. So..

Jim Coogan:
Sure.

Kevin Daisey:
So different question. So you practice you’re in Illinois only, is that where you practice?

Jim Coogan:
Yeah. At this point, yes.

Kevin Daisey:
Okay. What are some of the things that you’ve done and that you’ve been successful at getting these cases and clients in the door? So whether it’s … I’m sure it’s different for each medical malpractice versus working Workman’s Comp., or Worker’s Comp. … What have you done that’s been successful to get those clients in the door?

Jim Coogan:
Well, the first thing I’ll say, because is the truth, is not necessarily some kind of unique insight. But word of mouth is absolutely part of the process. And part of what is one of the reasons why we’ve … if I think back about the cases that we’ve settled in the past 12 months, many of them were from that. Partly because of other work that we did. You do good work and people tell their friends about it, or they tell their family member or whoever. We were fortunate in one case, we had a trial in 2019, complicated medical malpractice trial. It was against the university of Chicago, some doctors at that institution, the profile of the woman who’s who … so our client was a daughter of the woman who was getting the medical treatment. Unfortunately she died as a consequence of that medical treatment.

Jim Coogan:
And I’m … it’s not just me saying it, the jury decided that. We were fortunate that the Chicago Sun-Times actually wrote … ran a story about the woman who was at the center of all that. People read that story. So things like that can happen sometimes. And that was really, it was a fortunate thing. I mean, not every client wants their story to be told that way. Even if they go to trial, they may not feel like they want to tell it publicly, our client there did. And, that did actually lead to people calling up and saying, “Hey, I actually read this story and saw it in the Sunday paper.” And so that was something.

Jim Coogan:
But besides that, what I’ve also found is … we try to put a fair amount of content on our website. We’ve had some assistance with that at times, but also I’ll write a short piece. Or my partner, Caroleann Gallagher will write a short piece. Our newest lawyer Sharif Maadi, we’re going to get him to try to do that a little bit. He just got sworn in in January. So he’s got plenty of other things to learn at this stage. But I just got a call last week. I think it was last week, from a gentleman who had some questions about what could be another medical malpractice type case. He had searched for a particular legal term, and that was how he found us. That term came up from some article that I’d put, or a posting that I’d put up … I don’t know, a couple years ago … three years ago. It just, it fit with what he was looking for on the internet.

Jim Coogan:
So I know that some attorneys can get assistance with that kind of thing. There’s companies that will write those pieces for you. But I think it’s also valuable to contribute to that yourself, if you have time. It’s certainly one of those where you have to carve out those hours or, that half hour to write a little piece about some legal development in the news, or just to explain anything. Because what … I guess it’s easy for the practitioner to forget sometimes, that the simple parts of your day, the things that you consider simple because it’s terminology, that you’re so familiar with. It’s still not simple for everyone else. Nobody in their regular life talks about a statute of repose. Why would anybody talk about that a regular life? So if you even wrote a simple article about that and somebody happened to look it up because they were worried that they might of … it might be two years past their original injury, but they didn’t find out for a while. And there are states that have some exceptions to statute of limitations rules, then maybe they find that article, and maybe they find you.

Jim Coogan:
So that’s … and then there’s some other things where you try to get your name out there on lawyer listing websites and things like that. But it’s … I would say that’s kind of maybe the most general description of the array of efforts that we make.

Kevin Daisey:
Excellent. Well, yeah, I mean, number one word of mouth and referrals, you just can’t beat that. Time and time again, that’s what I hear from every attorney. I mean, this is the way we operate as well at our business. As much as we can get to that, but we try. And then, the content aspect. We do, we believe in SEO, which is what I would call that. It’s content marketing or SEO. And the basis for that is what you’re doing … is writing good content that’s going to help someone in their journey to figure out their situation, or it they’re trying to purchase something, or hire you. And along the way, if they find you, and you help them through that piece, now they’re exposed to your brand, and who else they going to call? They’re on your website, and sometimes it might be monster weeks or whatever, before they, they pull that trigger.

Kevin Daisey:
But putting that content, and what you know, most people don’t know. Like, you know, the general public it’s … they don’t know what they don’t know. So it’s … if you could put out that piece in a way they can understand, in a way they might be searching for it, I think that’s important too. Because they might not even know the term that you just mentioned to me, but they might be searching something, in that realm, trying to figure out what it might mean … ended up finding the answer on your website. So yeah, that’s something I think. Every attorney, if they can contribute, but it is a time factor. I looked at your website and I saw that you guys put out one per month, which is really good. But you know, trying to work that into your schedule, is a really good practice, but it does take time. So …

Jim Coogan:
Exactly.

Kevin Daisey:
So no, excellent. That’s awesome. And so what really … What are some of the things that you guys do there to manage the pipeline or pipelines, I guess, for each of the partner areas? Using a software, a management system … what has that been like for y’all?

Jim Coogan:
Well, fortunately for us, we had been in a, just a basic, simple “Let’s keep all these files in a server in our office three years ago,” But I’ve been managing and owning the firm for a little over five years, and I had felt as if it was incumbent upon us to transition over to being in the cloud, digital, paperless and have a case management system that kept all this stuff in one place. And was more intuitive than just creating word documents or creating PDFs or something like that. So I say, fortunately, because we did that before March of 2020, which … Very fortunate that we’d already made that transition, because being in a big city, it was at the very outset. There were, even though lawyers were considered, I think under Illinois’ emergency provisions, we were considered essential employees and therefore, or essential workers, and could go to the office.

Jim Coogan:
And I mean, they were, if everybody recalls, there were travel restrictions, you weren’t even supposed to go anywhere unless you had an excuse to go somewhere. I don’t know how heavily that was enforced, but in theory, you would want people to voluntarily self enforce, because we really didn’t know how dangerous COVID 19 was going to be at first. So we … I could have gone to the office more if I had to, but thankfully I didn’t have to. So we had our case management system and the cloud, and then we could just like everybody else. I found out what zoom was and we could communicate with each other.

Kevin Daisey:
Should have invested in zoom at that point?

Jim Coogan:
Well, If only … You’re right. And even probably at that moment, because I don’t know if anybody appreciated just how much it would now become integral to the practice. As I’ve only taken one in person deposition since March of 2020, so … And that’s something … We’re taking depositions once or twice a week usually. So yeah. So using that case management system has been very … It’s just been a critical thing. And it just makes the work so much easier. You can work from anywhere, and with our staff, it’s not a big firm this way. Everybody can still be on the same page with things. Versioning is always a critical issue, where you’re writing it … one version of a discovery response or a complaint. You don’t need multiple ones flying around in there. The system accounts for that, those are … and it integrates your email communications, and it does all those other things. So that’s been a really powerful tool for our practice.

Kevin Daisey:
What case management software are you using?

Jim Coogan:
It’s called Smokeball.

Kevin Daisey:
Say that again?

Jim Coogan:
Smoke ball … one word. S-M-O-K-E.

Kevin Daisey:
I’ve actually heard of that one. Interesting. Is it for attorneys specifically?

Jim Coogan:
Yes, it is. I think it’s actually a company that started in Australia, but they have a fairly … they have a presence in Chicago. They had an office … Well, we were in the loop. We moved our office a little bit outside the city last year, but it’s pretty … I like it because it’s pretty intuitive. It has ways that you can kind of … Once you put a caption in there, you can just start another document with that caption and it’ll pull all your email communication in from Outlook so that it’s all integrated. And you don’t … Otherwise you’re printing these things and copying them into a file or some other really cumbersome thing. And the more email communication was growing, it became obvious that just having letters from opposing counsel in one paper file wasn’t … It worked in 2006, but it wasn’t really conducive to run things that way, because then you’re wasting too much time just moving things around. This way, more of that is automated.

Kevin Daisey:
Yes. It’s interesting. I think we’ll look back in a few years, 10 years, and people will be like, “You remember when we did it this way?” And our kids will be like, “What? Crazy?”

Jim Coogan:
No, it will. It’ll look like people talking about Telegraph machines and things like that.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. That’s insane. Well, that’s awesome, man. I’m glad you got ahead of the curve and you made those decisions beforehand, not obviously knowing the impact, but kudos to you as running the firm, making those decisions and change is not ever, never easy. You want to grow, you want to change and implement new things sometimes, but it can be painful. But, you made the right decision, that’s for sure.

Jim Coogan:
Yeah, we did. We were fortunate.

Kevin Daisey:
Good on you. So check that out. I guess everyone listening … Is it Smokeball?

Jim Coogan:
Yes, sir. Yeah.

Kevin Daisey:
Cool. Now I’ve heard of that one. If you’re a attorney out on your own and you don’t have a case manager software, check that out. I know there’s other ones like Cleo and some bigger ones out there, that one sounds like it’s pretty, pretty cool. So talking about firm size and growth … Really, last question and we’ll let you get back to running your firm. But what size are y’all at the moment and kind of …. What do you see on the horizon? The next couple years, what’s some of your growth plans, or not necessarily by staff, but what’s some of the plans for the firm either get more efficient or to grow.

Jim Coogan:
I think we do have some potential to grow. The whole … The year plus of COVID really just kind of threw things off in terms of trying to figure out where have we been, what do we consist of, and where can we go? Because it’s just such an event. At least in Cook County, Illinois, which is where 80 something percent of our cases are venued. They didn’t restart trials until May of this year. So that really put a crimp in our normal pipeline and the flow of being able to resolve cases. So now we have a bunch of cases that have either would’ve gone to trial, or probably would’ve settled because a trial date would’ve been coming up, that’s normalizing. So now there’s a … There’s an opportunity to sort of get back to understanding where the normal future projections are going to go.

Jim Coogan:
And hopefully there’s nothing damaging on the horizon for all of humanity as far as COVID goes, but I suppose nobody knows. But we have been in the position of continuing to acquire more cases and it’s challenging stuff. And I keep … I feel as if I’m a glutton for punishment, but the malpractice work sort of compliments itself. And then more people call you about it when they see what the results have been.

Jim Coogan:
And we may also be getting into partnering with some bigger firms to work on some mass torque claims. There are just a lot of large scale product, dangerous product failure cases out there right now that are … it’s intriguing. It’s an area of the law that we would have to either scale up a little bit, or, what we’re planning on right now, is maybe work complimentary with some bigger firms that have the manpower to work on those kind of cases. And learn a little bit more about them and see how we might get involved in those kind of things, because it’s just a different way to try to serve people who are looking for help when they have this inexplicable medical outcome and didn’t understand why they found the horrible diagnosis, but they’ve been using the CPAP machine for 10 years and nobody ever told them that there could be a problem with it. That’s one of the newer ones that people, who saw in the news … I think it was early September, they did a full recall. The FDA insisted that Phillips take those off the market. So it’s things like that …

Kevin Daisey:
Sounds like a new article for you.

Jim Coogan:
Yeah. Probably have to get the word out a little bit more. I think lots of people have been, but we’re getting interested in that sort of thing as well.

Kevin Daisey:
That’s excellent. I think instead of hindering growth, partnering with others, kind of do what you got to do to … If you get those cases in the door or inquiries right, that you have some way to pursue them. I think that’s a good idea. And then learn from some bigger firms. And I assume, you said, like some kind of referral fees, or something like that up to where you’re working with some of the firm.

Jim Coogan:
Yeah, I mean, because they would have the expertise in having handled a hundred cases at a time or a thousand cases at a time. We’re three lawyers for now, but then I’m sure part of that economy scale is having multiple levels, multiple paralegals and assistants leading that up. Because ultimately the cases are very similar. They would all fall into a batch of commonality, but you still have to be able to handle the volume properly.

Kevin Daisey:
Now I think its great. I love your plans for that. And hopefully things go well, COVID takes the high road and gets out of here … But we just … You just, you don’t know. But all we can do is kind of plan for the best, or I guess, plan for growth and plan for the worst. But we’ll just have to take it it one day at a time. But it sounds like what you’ve done so far has been amazing and you’ve really made the right decisions and protecting what you guys have and you’re able to work remote if you need to now. And things have gotten a little more efficient hopefully for you. So I’m glad to hear things coming back to a little bit to normal. Hopefully we’ll see this fall and winter, how things go and hope for the best.

Jim Coogan:
Yeah. It’s a lucky thing to be able to try to help people. That’s where we’re at. That’s kind of … if you don’t want to do that, you wouldn’t get into the personal injury part of the law because it’s a very … It is a very individual human personal interaction. You’re working with one person and we’re lucky to be able to do it. And I think we’ll continue to strive to do it well, so …

Kevin Daisey:
Well, kudos to you and good luck. All the best and continuing and growing your practice and helping people out. So everyone watching, again … website dwyerandcoogan.com if you want to check out Jim’s firm and what he’s up to. If you’re an attorney that has … Maybe there’s referral opportunities, and I’m sure he’s also, as they’re going to be growing, I think looking for talented people to bring on board too. So stay in touch with Jim, check him out. Is there another way that people could reach out and connect with you if they wanted to on a personal level?

Jim Coogan:
Yeah. I’ve got …

Kevin Daisey:
LinkedIn? Or is there any social networks that you personally stay on top of?

Jim Coogan:
I’ve got my own Twitter handle … I think it’s … Geez, I should know… J.Cogan1 or something like that. But there’s a firm … I think Dwyer@Cogan is actually our firm’s Twitter handle. You can certainly find us there. And if you send a message, I’d see it. LinkedIn profile, easy to search for just … I’m sure if you type in Coogan or James Coogan, there shouldn’t be the other ones out there. And obviously if you look at the website, my emails right there, jcoogan@dwyercoogan.com. If I have anything that somebody felt they wanted to ask some questions about, I’m always happy to share it … any knowledge, any experience … I don’t know if I would call it wisdom, but if it helps somebody, then I’m happy to do it.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah. I appreciate that. I think, I’m just excited and blessed to be able to do this show. And I’m happy to say that out of 140 or more this year of interviews like this, every attorney is the same, open, willing to share, clearly there to help people. So I think for the general public, right? Not attorneys, people think “Oh, attorneys are bad or they charge you tons of money or whatever.” I mean, every single one I’ve ever talked to is willing to help answer questions and just there to help people. So glad to know that I know that we got insider knowledge, I guess, but yeah, I appreciate you coming on and sharing your story and just willingness to help people.

Jim Coogan:
Kevin, thanks for having me on, I really appreciate the opportunity. It was nice to talk with you today.

Kevin Daisey:
Yeah, you too, man. Well stay on with me for just a second. Everyone listening, watching, wherever you’re coming from, we’ll be up on LinkedIn and YouTube and Facebook and on our podcast here soon. But check out Jim’s episode, it’ll be up very soon on our website, as also will be on YouTube and other places. But it’ll be on the website, he’ll have his own page featuring him at Raylaw.com for such podcast. So check that out soon. If you need help growing your firm, running that content, the stuff that Jim’s doing, writing those articles that drive people to his website, we help do that. Reach out to us, Ray law.com. And I’m happy to answer your questions. Just like Jim is willing to help, I’m willing to help anything you need. You can be an attorney that started yesterday or been in business for a hundred years. I’ll do my best to help you. So that’s it, Jim, thanks so much for joining me and everyone else. Have a great day.

Jim Coogan:
Thanks Kevin.

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