“Being a lawyer runs in the family. My father is an attorney, my mother is an attorney, cousin, sister, brother, everybody is an attorney essentially.”
That’s how second-generation personal injury trial attorney Robert Curcio, better known as R.J., describes his almost fated path to taking the mantle at his family’s Chicago-based personal injury practice. Today, R.J. Curcio has guided his firm through a technological revolution—including bringing Smokeball personal injury law software on board—but it wasn’t always so clear that 21st century lawyering and law firm administration was in his future. As many lawyers today can relate to, R.J.’s passion for trial work and the law came later, as he realized the difference good lawyering can have on the lives of clients.
“I went to college with a completely different perspective. I was heavy into athletics, and I wanted to actually move on and get my master’s in strength and conditioning to become a strength and conditioning coach.”
“I applied to both strength and conditioning programs and to a couple of law schools. And after graduating from college, I woke up one morning in my apartment, and I just said, ‘I’m going to move home and go to law school.’”
“I got to law school, and within two or three months I realized I want to work on trials. I ended up moving on to a prestigious large personal injury firm in Chicago, and I absolutely loved that.”
But strength and conditioning are not concepts lost on a zealous advocate fighting for clients’ wholeness every step of the way. R.J.’s past experiences in that field were parlayed into a new purpose as his passion for the law developed to mirror his family’s. And after some time honing skills at a large personal injury firm, he recognized the opportunity in front of him.
“It’s quite an experience to be able to work with not only one parent, but both parents, and I wanted to be able to take advantage of that while I can. So, I ended up working here, and now I’ve been practicing law with them for a little while.”
While R.J. brings a new generational perspective to the firm his father started over sixty years ago, his appreciation for the firm’s purpose is as strong as every other practitioner on his team.
“Curcio Law Offices opened in 1958 actually. It was opened by my dad early on in his career. He had a personal tragedy in his life, and he and his family felt helpless, so from a young age he knew he wanted to be an attorney and work in personal injury. He tells this story where he remembers sitting in class in grade school and writing Joseph R. Curcio, Attorney at Law.”
“As the volume of work became greater and greater, he was always on the cutting edge. His was one of the first firms to have computers. His was also one of the first firms to have printers, copiers, so on and so forth. He transitioned with the times.”
It was clear to R.J. from the start of his tenure as a fresh attorney at the family firm that he wanted to continue his father’s legacy of adopting legal technology to better serve clients. One of his first projects upon rejoining the firm was overhauling its practice management system to be more efficient for clients and become paperless for the environment. He also quickly saw the frustration of staff with the inability to consistently use their previous management system.
“I had worked with our old case management software before when we had closed files. I didn’t fully understand how it worked back then, but I figured it was probably because I didn’t know what all the documents meant. But once I finished working at a larger firm and I saw how everything was done there, I came here and recognized some of our deficiencies; some things were holding us back. And certainly the case management software was one of the issues, because if I wasn’t able to use it or pick it up even after reading online, it’s going to be difficult to train other people going forward!”
R.J. understood immediately the importance of having a system that everyone could use; without that, the firm could never become truly efficient. As he researched which systems could provide extremely robust features while remaining usable for all levels of technological competence, he kept coming back to Smokeball.
“As I did the research—and I spent months researching case management software—I kept coming back to Smokeball. Part of the reason is because I felt like it really could help us go green. I use a scanner more than anything else, so seeing that a scanner could be integrated with Smokeball, seeing that Microsoft Office was integrated with the program, I knew for a fact it could help us go green and it would also make things a lot more efficient.”
He also realized that Smokeball was the system for small law firms that most closely mirrored the expensive advanced solutions utilized in extremely efficient large law firms. But even Smokeball built upon and improved upon those large-firm systems. Smokeball became the clear choice for Curcio Law Offices.
“Having worked somewhere else, we had a hard drive for the firm that had folders in it, whether it be a folder for trial, research, correspondence, discovery. But there was separate software for all the contacts and everything like that. So being able to bring everything together into one program, and then being able to pull up that case and find everything that’s related to it, that was the biggest thing for me. And then, of course, as time has gone on learning more about it—being able to file through Smokeball, being able to see how much time we put into each type of case.”
Besides seeing every single thing to do with a file in one place, R.J. quickly realized other Smokeball features brought the firm to the top of its game.
“Seeing matter insights, emails, tasks, the legal forms and templates, it really does help make things quicker. Smaller firms need to make sure that what we’re doing is as efficient as possible, and Smokeball has really helped us get to that point. For example, I have these letters, but they’re already in the program and I just need to enter a couple of things rather than going through copying and pasting; it’s just made life a lot faster and tasks a lot shorter. Today it’s easier to find stuff. Everybody knows how to use Smokeball, and there’s no reason that anybody at the firm should not be capable of using this program to the fullest extent.”
And that pesky problem of not everyone knowing how to use a software system? It was no longer an issue thanks to Smokeball’s easy-to-use layouts, features, and support system.
“One of the best parts about this is that everybody at the firm knows how to use Smokeball. Whereas before in the previous system, there were two, maybe three people who did, and every attorney would have to go to a support staff member and say, ‘Hey, would you mind pulling this file for me?’ Now, everybody has a little bit more independence, which really helps keep things moving throughout the course of the day. So, as far as efficiency, that really helps.”
Part of the Curcio Law Offices success story came from Smokeball’s commitment to comprehensive onboarding, training, and support: all three coming from a real, live person! And while implementing a whole new system certainly took effort from R.J. and his staff, he knew that Smokeball’s team was with them every step of the way, managing the project and easing the burden of transition.
“Our onboarding process, there’s a lot to say about that. It was a labor-intensive process because I was determined to make sure that when we did switch over Smokeball had everything we needed in it so that we could efficiently transition. Jonnell was our Onboarding Specialist, and she was spectacular. She was with us every step of the way, responsive to email, and told us exactly what we needed to do to get off to a fast start. So, Jonnell was spectacular and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without her and everybody else that she was working with during the onboarding process. That’s not to say it wasn’t labor intensive, taking everything out of our old program and putting it into Smokeball, but that’s true of just about anything you do! If you put more work in on the front end, there’s a lot more rewards on the back end.”
But why is Smokeball suited especially for personal injury firms? The answer was a simple one for R.J. and his team, and it’s one that not all personal injury firms are focused on because they do not typically bill by the hour. Smokeball’s automatic time tracking features and the related profitability and efficiency reporting features began to make a big difference in how Curcio Law Offices gauged productivity.
“Now, from an administrative standpoint, which I think is extraordinarily important, plaintiff’s firms, we don’t really keep track of our time. And we can’t keep track of it because we’re not billable. Having the matter insights tab available to me, I’m able to go there and I can see how much time we have put into each file and who has put in that time. That is extraordinarily important for us in being able to assess the file–being able to assess what files are actually profitable for us, and to see, quite frankly, who’s putting in the time on these cases, and how that time is then coming out as far as bottom line numbers. That really helps from an administrative standpoint, because you can see the different types of cases and the best way for us to break it down is by value.”
This data, automatically gathered and compiled in Smokeball, truly helped R.J.’s team analyze efficiency and quality for their clients with real numbers. It also let them review what type of cases they were taking and how to be better in every way.
“Obviously, if you have a huge fee on a case, it’s more of an outlier. But statistically, how much time are we putting in on cases where you’re coming up with a total settlement of 25 to 50 thousand, to 75 thousand and that type of bracket? It allows you to figure out, ‘Should I be more judicious with the types of cases I take here?’ Or, ‘Should I be more judicious with the types of cases that I take on the high end?’ ‘What’s going to help me, what’s going to help this firm run as smoothly as possible?’ And to me, that’s unbelievably helpful in being able to evaluate the business consistently.”
For R.J. and the rest of Curcio Law Offices, Smokeball means efficiency. It’s the overarching reason Smokeball delivers for personal injury firms.
“The efficiency aspect is really important because, being a personal injury firm, you don’t have all the benefits of some other firms that work on an hourly basis. And you have to make sure you’re as efficient as possible because efficiency directly relates to overhead. That gets into the business part of it: lower overhead, as well as static overhead. You want to make sure that you’re maximizing every dollar. And you want to make one dollar do the work of 10. Smokeball has allowed us to become more efficient, which has allowed us to maintain this static overhead. And the static overhead then creates a smaller bottom line figure that annually we have to meet in order to do our jobs to the best of our ability. It’s really allowed us to kind of, not necessarily shrink our staff, but we don’t need to be always hiring more hands to help out because Smokeball has allowed us to become more efficient. That’s why Smokeball is really important to a plaintiff’s personal injury firm. I think that is the essence of why Smokeball case management software is so vital to a firm like ours.”
With Smokeball as an integral member of the Curcio Law Offices “family”, R.J.’s firm is able to focus on continuing to set itself apart for its quality of work and quality of client care. It’s a message that R.J. is adamant about bringing into a new technological generation.
“One of the things that my father has built this business on—something our clients have always said that they feel—is a personalized and personal client customer experience. And at the end of the day, personal injury work is not just customer experience and it’s not that a client is just a customer; our clients are actual people that need our help. These are people that come to you at often the most difficult times of their lives. So, you need to not only be their friend, but be their therapist, their ears and their shoulder to cry on. But you also need to be their advocate. That’s something that my dad, over the course of 60 years, has built the firm upon; it’s that personal, personalized experience. What I’m trying to do today is make sure that all our clients continue to have that exact same experience despite a new technology, word-of-mouth landscape. My goal is to take the firm and be able to have a stronger online presence, where all those people who say that they’ve had such a good experience, and traditionally in the past would have told their friends, or referred them here talk about that great experience.”
With the generational change that R.J. has brought to Curcio Law Offices by returning to practice at his family’s side, he also brought a once-in-a-generation practice management system to the team by implementing Smokeball. With Smokeball, Curcio Law Offices continues to grow as a family, a team, and a business.
“Our firm’s goal is to continue to provide an excellent experience to each one of our clients. From a business perspective, of course, our goal is to continue to grow and expand and continue with our efficiency. And then finally, a third goal is to go green, within the next 24 to 36 months to be an entirely paperless office. There’s no question that having Smokeball is absolutely a catalyst to being able to achieve this. Smokeball has been able to integrate so many programs and automate so many forms and processes. It allows us to pull everything from the computer, create the documents that we need, and then print only what we need.”
Smokeball has helped R.J. Curcio return to his roots as a person focused on strength and strong processes. Today, Curcio Law Offices is a beacon of strength for its clients, and Smokeball happily supports them in growing that reputation by easing the burdens of smartly running a personal injury practice.
“It’s making life pretty much as easy as possible, is the way I’d put it.”