Personal injury firm BBB Attorneys has 13 locations throughout Connecticut. The team prides itself on taking an innovative approach to working with clients. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with attorneys and business partners Peter Billings and Peter Bowman about incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship into their business.
NAN PRICE: How did you two come together to form your business?
PETER BILLINGS: Peter and I were brought together through a mutual colleague who thought we might be a good fit. We had talked about the vision we had for the use of technology and how we thought that could help us grow a firm and provide better services, better communication, and ultimately lead to a successful practice. We opened the firm in 2012 with our first location in New Haven.
NAN: Launching a business is obviously different than practicing law. Did either of you plan to have your own practice? Did you have any business training?
PETER BILLINGS: Going into law school, I didn’t think I wanted to be my own boss. However, it’s become a major benefit. Being a business owner is really a wonderful thing. I wish law schools placed more value on opening your own firm.
The flexibility, the sense of responsibility, and the pride I take in owning a business is something I value tremendously. And I joke that I’m completely unemployable. I wouldn’t last two days having someone tell me what to do!
PETER BOWMAN: We talk about this with our interns now, how there are some business and law or accounting and law classes in law school, but it’s not enough to set you up to run a business.
Peter and I didn’t have any formal business experience before we jumped in. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I got some advice from them.
As we grow, Peter and I have talked about whether we should earn our executive Master of Business Administration degrees or take some business classes. We rely a lot on outside counsel and our bookkeeper. We also use a small business-focused accountant who is entrepreneurial and has been helpful by providing us with a better concept and understanding about running a business.
But mostly the two of us are handling everything from human resources work to admin to payroll. We’re tech people, we’re everything—and I’m sure you hear that from a lot of us entrepreneurs. It’s part of the growing pains that come with owning your own business.
And there’s a little bit of trial and error. We’ve made mistakes along the way in terms of marketing and advertising and other business issues, but you need to be open to learning from those experiences and seeing where you can do better. We take pride in communicating well with our employees, clients, and vendors and we hope to improve every year.
NAN: Tell us a little about the business evolution.
PETER BOWMAN: The firm started as just a single spot in New Haven and then grew into some outlying satellites. Our goal has been to serve all of Connecticut. We’re always looking for opportunities for growth.
PETER BILLINGS: In terms of adding locations, we realized that with multiple locations, we can meet with clients more conveniently. Expanding our footprint has been a valuable tool for both advertising and client service.
NAN: In what ways has the pandemic impacted your business?
PETER BOWMAN: One thing we lost in the pandemic is the collaboration between attorneys. Attorneys are notoriously difficult to pin down, and the courtroom was a place where we could connect. One of the things we’re trying to focus on is how to bring that back? And that’s through collaborating as a counsel and interacting with attorneys. We’ve engaged in some small groups where we can talk to other attorneys. We also focus on being open and honest about growth and challenges with our colleagues throughout the industry as well as in the firm.
PETER BILLINGS: The pandemic didn’t affect us as much as some other law firms because we were already operating out of the cloud. But what we have done is we focused on a virtual receptionist so clients can contact us right away. We’ve gotten rid of voicemail because we found it wasn’t effective for communicating with clients. We’ve also added text messages, which gives real-time access to lawyers and staff and to our clients.
NAN: Let’s talk about innovation. How is the firm incorporating technology to meet clients’ needs?
PETER BOWMAN: Right now, we’re the only firm in Connecticut operating on a Salesforce-based legal platform, which is called Litify. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into implementing that and it’s creating great opportunities for growth in our firm.
PETER BILLINGS: BBB Attorneys is a litigation firm at heart, so we’re using Litify for automation and tracking clients. It enabled us to implement some litigation deadlines and set up tasks, which helps us provide great representation for our clients while reducing some everyday stress for them as well as our employees. So, that’s our real focus of innovation.
PETER BOWMAN: We’ve tried to look to growth opportunities in this kind of new age. So, we started an internship program during the pandemic because we were able to. While other firms were closing their internship programs and large firms weren’t taking on summer associates, we were growing our program.
We’ve had unbelievable success with interns working remotely and they do an excellent job. We’ve been able to give our interns access to legal proceedings through Zoom and Teams that did not exist before. They can easily pop onto a deposition or a court hearing as opposed to having to travel to that event previously.
NAN: What’s next?
PETER BOWMAN: More growth. We’re taking in and merging with other law firms. We’ve now had three legal acquisitions of law firms, typically lawyers who are more senior members of the bar. They’re seeing the importance of collaboration and the scale that’s needed to exist and survive in this current market.
As technology progresses, we’re going to see that it’s necessary to team up. When you take on insurance companies or large firms, you need the firepower to do that. And through that is our growth.
Ultimately, we hope that all of this technology and innovation enables us to be lawyers again, because the real problem with the law is that a lot of times you’re focused on admin or document production or things that are really outside of what being a lawyer is—which in my view is litigating files, writing briefs, and focusing and understanding the law for your clients.
As opposed to being daunted by technology, lawyers should be embracing it. We’re usually the last to embrace any changes. BBB has embraced technology into our practices so we can succeed in returning to the law, instead of being file clerks. Our office is fully paperless. We’ve also digitized the firms we’ve taken on. And it’s working out wonderfully so our lawyers can focus on the law and how to best serve our clients.