Douglas E. Herman – Mike Hostilo Law Firm
There’s an underserved market for quality legal services in the rural Southeast and even in its small and medium-sized cities. It’s here where insurance firms may take advantage of people who are injured by the negligence of others and lacking in competent legal representation. Personal injury claimants, sometimes of modest means, face a David-vs.-Goliath battle to achieve a just resolution.
So says Douglas E. Herman, chief legal officer and litigation director of the Mike Hostilo Law Firm, which prides itself on going nose-to-nose with insurance firms and their lawyers. It’s like a game of chicken, he explains, where one can’t show weakness or eagerness to settle a claim lacking in fair value.
“If the insurance companies don’t think you’ll take them to court, you won’t get fair offers,” Herman says. “We make it clear: If you don’t play ball fairly, we’ll litigate this in court and let a jury tell you why you’ve misjudged or undersold our client’s case.”
That hardball approach is working, Herman tells Vanguard from the Savannah, Georgia, headquarters of the Hostilo firm. Since Herman joined in January 2018, he says he’s assembled and mentored a first-rate litigation team and worked with others to ensure it is outfitted with the right technological tools. All of that has paid off, he says, as Hostilo’s average case value has almost doubled on his watch and the firm’s footprint continues to grow, with its latest office having opened in the summer of 2021, in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Charleston is a more attorney-saturated market than most of ours,” Herman says. “But we’re meeting with the success we had expected, and now we’re focused on exceeding those expectations.”
The Charleston office gives Hostilo a dozen across Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. All are essentially hubs within driving distance of the many communities where a sparsity of lawyers means a lot of people may not have their interests duly overseen when pursuing damages after auto accidents, slip-and-falls and what-not.
“We want to offer top quality legal service in communities that haven’t always received the best service, historically,” Herman says. “Even in Savannah and Charleston, there aren’t thousands of attorneys catering to personal injury and tort claims, like there are in Atlanta or Philadelphia. The shortage is worse in smaller markets.”
For Herman, leveling this field is all part of the greater role he assumed when he joined Hostilo after representing the firm from the outside as a long-time partner with Savannah-based Oliver Maner, LLP. Herman recalls that in 2018 the firm had yet to realize its potential due to the absence of an established litigation team that could handle the larger and more complex cases, which often were outsourced.
“Allow me to build a quality litigation department and we’ll become even more profitable and our clients will benefit tremendously,” Herman told founder Mike Hostilo. “The insurance companies will see we’re serious about pursuing a case to trial, if necessary, and that will have a trickle-down effect for the values on all cases, large and small, whether they are able to be settled or have to be litigated.”
But there was more to the equation than just the personnel whom Herman would put on the team and mentor. Equally important was the continued cultivation of cutting-edge technology to streamline communications with clients and assist in the management of a large volume of case files.
He says the firm’s technological prowess was on full display during COVID-19, operating essentially paperless through new cloud-based platforms and document management software that automated what had been a manual-intense practice.
“While other volume personal-injury firms were paralyzed by closures and the inability to gather their teams at traditional brick and mortar offices, we were able to transition seamlessly even with almost 100 employees and across 11 offices,” Herman says.
Though digital technology also is used for marketing, the firm hasn’t given up the personal approach. Its lawyers and staffers immerse in community activities and charitable activities around the holidays and year-round. The firm has its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Hostilo Helps, which aids less fortunate children with scholarships and backpacks stuffed with school supplies.
Transcending traditional legal
In addition to day-to-day law practice and mentoring and his responsibility as general counsel, Herman assumes a role in business planning and managements tasks. It’s a perk he wouldn’t likely enjoy had he stayed with a traditional firm.
At present, Herman has a hand in the professional development of 18 lawyers and doesn’t want any feeling lost in a crowd. It’s a dynamic and diverse team, he says, with each of them bringing their own perspective and energy to the practice.
“My focus isn’t just on practicing law but on devising and implementing new policies and procedures, building on what’s in place and charting long-term growth prospects for the continued success of this firm; and, of course, that means finding quality personnel,” the Widener University School of Law graduate says. “To grow in this marketspace, you really have to take advantage of technology and be number-one in customer service.”
But once a litigator, always a litigator. Herman still spends over 70 percent of his time directing litigation, handling his own caseload and assisting other attorneys on theirs. The rest of the time he’s either focused on helping Hostilo and the management team in running the firm or overseeing its interests as general counsel.
While the firm’s bread and butter remains individual personal injury and tort claims, it maintains a thriving referral practice for cases it doesn’t regularly handle and for class-actions that includes Camp Lejeune groundwater contamination, Takata airbag recalls and hernia-mesh health problems.
“There are always new professional and business opportunities to tap,” Herman says. “Part of my job is to help identify those opportunities and assist the firm in capitalizing on those while we continue to provide quality legal services to those injured persons who are in need of our help.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer III 2023 Edition here.
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