Episode 204 — Alexander Shunnarah — The Thin Line Between Success and Failure
Alexander Shunnarah has become one of the most recognizable faces in his home state and beyond thanks to his billboards — 2,000 of them and counting — and his slogan: “Call me, Alabama.” Shunnarah’s billboards have become so popular they’ve spawned thousands of memes and even Facebook fan pages.
In this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, Alex and Crisp Founder & CEO Michael Mogill discuss taking calculated financial risks, when it’s time to go all-in on advertising, and how a little bit of fear can be the ideal driving force for an entrepreneurial attorney.
Get ready to learn the answers to questions like:
- How did a personal injury lawyer become the best-known face in all of Alabama?
- What can football coach Nick Saban teach us about law firm leadership?
- And why does Alexander Shunnarah play the legal marketing long game?
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Becoming a local celebrity. “It’s flattering really. You know, I didn’t really intend for any of that to happen. But yeah, they do dress up as me on Halloween. I can’t go to the mall anywhere without hearing something like a “Call Me, Alabama!” I just went to a football game this past fall, and from where our part to the stadium was — only about a half a mile walk — I had my posse that was with me counting. I had to stop for like 43 photographs and pretty much missed kickoff, but I think it’s great because it’s my business. It’s my brand. I’m actually the brand, which, you know, I didn’t intend that either. But 15 years ago when I started this, I really honestly didn’t think I was building a brand. So this has turned out well.”
Shunnarah’s turning point. “In 2005, I met a client by the name of Ivan Phillips. He was just in a simple auto accident where he laid his motorcycle down and it broke his arm. He came into my office and mentioned to two or three lawyers that he wanted it done at a reduced rate because he was uncomfortable with the hospital bills, and they had filed a lien on them. He said, ‘I want you to do it for a very reduced rate,’ and it took me about two seconds to say, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ I ended up taking that case, and we ended up getting the entire policy. Then a couple of years later in 2007, he ended up losing his leg at the railroad (he was a railroad worker), and of course we ended up retaining it. During the course of the next couple years, two other guys lost their legs at the railroad, so I ended up getting three individuals. They all settled in the summer of 2009, and that was the first time in my life that I had a couple of million dollars of cash flow. I just made the determination that I was going all-in.”
Intrinsic motivators. “When I got to law school, I wanted my grades to be as good as anybody else’s. Then, when I got into personal injury space — and maybe this is funny — but I can’t imagine someone else being the most recognizable person or the number one law firm in Alabama. That was not on my watch. I joke around that if I ever drive in Alabama and somebody has a larger law firm or is more popular than I am, or is more branded, I’m just going to jump off a bridge. You know, that’s funny, but there’s no meaning for me anymore. It’s just who I am and it’s just what I do. The climb is fun, but staying on top is actually harder than the climb itself.”
The only thing that can take Shunnarah out. “I truly believe this with all my heart: When you reach a certain level, no one can take you out but yourself. When I go to bed at night, I pray for a sound mind and sound body because if my mind is sound and my body is sound, I don’t think anybody can take us out.”
Brand yourself to land the cases you want. “You have to be synonymous with something. So now, we’re trying to change. We were moving in different directions. We have a lot of practice areas now. We do property damage claims, winds, phones, fires, catastrophic injuries — it’s very diverse, but when I started this business I said, even 20 years ago, I knew that when they think ‘Alex’ I want them to think ‘car wreck.’ And that was the mission that I tried to accomplish.”
From traditional to digital. “The digital space is not going anywhere. It will just continue to evolve. Maybe 20 years from now, there’ll be something even different, but this is the first year I think where corporate America now spends more money on digital than they do on any traditional mediums.”
Trusting the process of digital marketing. “I just trust that even though I can’t see it, I can’t measure it — maybe even though you can, like you said with PPC and funnels and clicks — you have to just trust that if you have the right people in place, it’s a marathon and it’ll work for you in the long term.”
Creativity gives you an edge. “If any industry gets restricted because of legislation or something, it’s only going to benefit the people that are already there, because creativity is what gives people the chance to maybe usurp someone or to be recognized.”
A day in the life. “I’m at work pretty early, and in the law business there are two ways to handle it: You can either let your practice run you, or you can run your practice — and I’m always on the offensive. I run my practice because you know the law is a jealous mistress. It can eat you up.”
Learn your lessons. “It’s always a teaching moment. You can always do this a little bit better because if you decide you want to be in this field, you decided you wanted to work at this firm, you decided you wanted to practice law (civil), you decided you wanted to work at a tort practice — well, let’s make the most of it. This is how you can do the best job for your clients.”