A Man for the People


Shunnarah 1Alexander Shunnarah shares the success story behind his legal brand.

Written by Bill Mylius

Photography by Beau Gustafson

 

You’ve seen him on television and billboards in every major market, on every highway and byway in Alabama. Alexander Shunnarah is more than a personal injury attorney: He’s a brand, and the brand is growing.

And when he says, “I’m not in this for the money,” well, I believe him. We’re in a conference room in his Southside Birmingham office. It’s comfortable, but not plush; functional, but not elaborate. He makes the remark with no hint of irony and with the knowledge that since striking out on his own in the personal injury law field—and after a few lean years—he’s done well. Very well.

He currently has 13 brick and mortar locations, 44 lawyers named on his stationary (with the next printing, the list will pass 50), a network of attorneys from Florence to Mobile and Tuscaloosa to Anniston, and expansion across state lines with new offices in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Florida offices in Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, and Gainesville. With a new venture of Alexander Shunnarah Gulf Coast, LLP, which had been in the works for some time, Shunnarah is now offering legal services across a three-state region. He has even entered another arena of growth by joining forces with established, community-based firms in Alabama cities Selma and Prattville.

When we talk, Shunnarah focuses on two things, neither of which is personal injury law: one, his ability to help people, and two, his ability to grow a business. “I’m a people person,” he says with a tone of both conviction and contentment. When I respond that the “people person” description is often overused, he leans in and elaborates: “A client turns to me to be their spokesperson, their representative, their guide, and even their friend. I get great satisfaction in the ability of our firm to help people who don’t have the capability to play on a level field, who don’t have the knowledge or resources to fairly engage all the forces arrayed against them when they’re injured or harmed. The way I see it, we supply our ‘David’ clients with the legal knowledge and resources to achieve fair compensation from their ‘Goliath’ opponents. They are putting their trust—and maybe even the quality of the rest of their life—in our hands. So it’s not money that motivates me…it’s doing what’s right. And I’ve always believed—and I preach this to every attorney at the firm—that money is simply the byproduct of doing what’s right.”

At most companies, and particularly in entrepreneurial endeavors, the vision and personality of the top person—the CEO—forms the foundation of the corporate culture. At Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys (ASPIA), the top person says it’s what he and “we can do to help people who truly need help.”

It’s also about growth. As we talk, I come to the conclusion that if he weren’t in the legal profession, he would be growing another type of business and probably doing it just as successfully. Shunnarah agrees. He may have earned an undergraduate degree in sociology and political science from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and a Juris Doctorate from the Birmingham School of Law, but he points to a family and personal history of entrepreneurial self-employment that, with his father, has included a car stereo shop, package store, convenience stores, grocery stores, restaurants, a Florida panhandle beach shop (complete with an airbrush artist and dried starfish), and a downtown Birmingham newsstand. These experiences, he believes, helped imbue him with an entrepreneurial spirit that he feels has been present in his family for countless generations and, as such, is part of his DNA. But it takes more than an “entrepreneurial spirit” to be successful: It takes business and marketing savvy.

From a business standpoint, he feels he can blame success on many elements, but he chooses to focus on a combination of two things: the market conditions he’s in and the compensation package he offers. When he left a local law firm and struck out on his own in 2001, a prime motivator was his compensation. It was not that he felt underpaid; rather, it was the realization that regardless of how much he worked, how much business he generated for the firm, or how many cases he settled or won, it all had little impact on his earnings. So in structuring the compensation program for ASPIA, he ensured that lawyers working for him would be rewarded for their hard work.

At the same time, he says market conditions are providing fewer and fewer opportunities for talented attorneys, leaving an ever-growing pool of talent to staff his growing firm. Noting that in the past year he’s “brought in six of the best trial attorneys in the business,” he says he’s able to attract “top talent” and keep them on board with an “incredible” compensation package and good leadership. “It’s important to understand,” he emphasizes, “that most lawyers have a lone wolf mentality. That means it’s important that every lawyer in this firm has as much autonomy as they need, as well as strong leadership. I want to empower the attorneys who work here, and I think that makes me a leader, not a boss.” Shunnarah quickly admits that many of the attorneys in his firm are “better trial lawyers than I am. My specialty is growing business.”

Which brings us to his marketing savvy. While business acumen is important, success also requires a pretty good advertising budget. And while Shunnarah is hesitant to disclose the extent of that budget, it’s safe to say that with television commercials airing with determined regularity in all five major state markets, plus some 1,400 billboards on interstates and major highways, it’s a total saturation level expenditure. The goal for such a level of saturation is termed “top of mind awareness” meant to ensure that when anyone in Alabama needs a personal injury attorney, they will at least think of his name—his brand—and hopefully call.

Which they do. Consider that in the booming industry of legal advertising, all of the untold millions spent are designed to do one thing: Make a telephone ring. And when that happens, according to industry standards, only some 30 percent of calls result in viable cases. Last year, Shunnarah’s firm handled about 6,000 viable cases. Do the math. That’s 20,000 calls for the year, more than 50 calls each day, seven days each week. Granted, some of those calls are referrals from satisfied clients and some are from admittedly unlucky repeat customers, both of which give him pride in his firm’s level of customer service. But mostly, the calls are from people responding to his aggressive advertising program—a program he controls with a marketing strategy he created by “not listening to the so-called experts on legal advertising, but rather by concentrating on creating a brand.”

And he plans to keep the calls coming from an ever-expanding geographic area. When Shunnarah looks to the future of ASPIA, he envisions growth beyond a three-state practice to a regional personal injury law firm that can “plant its brand anywhere” and provide successful results for individuals in any community. Shunnarah is also active in giving back to the communities as a sponsor of events like Fiesta, other charitable and religious organizations, and local sports. “Look, I’m a lucky guy,” he says with sincerity. “I have a passion for helping people, and I can do that. I have an unwavering belief in this country…in the American dream of cultural, political, religious, and economic freedom, and as an attorney, I can help others safeguard that freedom. I’m thankful for that.

“I’m also thankful,” he continues, returning to an earlier line of thought, “for the gift I have to relate to people…to be able to talk with them, motivate them, have them trust me, even like me. Because no matter how you look at this, how many TV ads or billboards we have, how many towns and cities we’re in, or how many inquiries we generate every day or month or year, it all comes down to talking to each and every individual client, one on one, and doing everything we can to make their life better. And that’s what I mean by doing what’s right. If we do that, we’ll be successful.”

www.shunnarah.com

One Response to “A Man for the People”

  1. Alex is a awesome lawyer and is a lawyer for the people! I highly suggest all of Alabama and surrounding states to give Alexander Shunnarah a call after a accident because he us by far the best at what he does which is protecting your rights!

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