He’s Attorney James Sokolove
And those cheesy ads of his? They’ve done more than make him a pariah and a punch line. They’ve also created an under-the-radar empire that’s about to reinvent the business of ambulance chasing yet again.
The law offices of James Sokolove, on Centre Street in Newton, don’t look much like a law office at all. There’s no sign on the outside of the stucco building it shares with a business that gets people out of IRS trouble and an outpost of the Fuller Brush Company, which peddles cleaning supplies to door-to-door salesmen. Inside, Sokolove has no reception desk, none of the shelves stacked high with the volumes of case law that occasionally appear in his commercials, just two floors packed tight with cubicles. Painted on the wall is the firm’s utilitarian tag line, “We fix problems.”
Most mornings, Sokolove arrives around 9:30. He works less than a half a mile from his home, a mansion on Crystal Lake. There, he maintains a more lawyerly office—big desk, framed commendations, requisite picture of himself with President Bill Clinton—that he barely ever uses. At age 64, Sokolove has a retired boxer’s slumped shoulders and a newscaster’s head of hair. He wears khakis and brightly colored dress shirts left open at the collar; just about the only time he dons a suit these days is when he’s filming a commercial. Meeting a practicing attorney in Sokolove’s office is so rare an event (there are only three) that it practically demands comment. “She’s a real lawyer” is how he introduces one.
At a typical personal-injury firm, potential clients call with a legal issue and are passed along to a paralegal or a lawyer who determines whether a case can be made on their behalf. Sorting through prospects represents the lion’s share of its attorneys’ work. To find a single malpractice case, a firm might first have to wade through interviews with 125 callers.
The problem with that system, as Sokolove has always seen it, is that it’s inefficient. Plenty of people who need help get turned away from firms that don’t really have the expertise to handle their cases. “If you advertise for personal injury and you get a call for med mal, you have to have somebody to handle the stuff,” Sokolove says. “Waste can kill you.” Meanwhile, lawyers lose time speaking to potential claimants who don’t end up bringing in winnable suits. Sokolove solves all that by matching clients with specialized lawyers who belong to his network of 400 affiliated law firms. Together, they can represent clients in more than 130 types of cases.