Client Stories | Angélicque M. Moreno
“Be bold. Believe in yourself. There are going to be challenges, but never doubt that you can handle them.”
“I always wanted to be a partner in a firm,” Angélicque says.
It was family that led Angélicque M. Moreno to become a personal injury lawyer. And it was also family that drove her to start her own trial firm with a partner, Brooklyn-based Avanzino & Moreno. Angélicque grew up in the housing projects of the South Bronx, the daughter of parents from Puerto Rico. One of her cousins was injured during birth, resulting in his suffering from cerebral palsy. “The effect his injuries had not only on him and his parents but our entire family was my motivation to become a lawyer who represents victims,” Angélicque says. While attending Northeastern University School of Law, “I took a trial advocacy course, and to my surprise, I absolutely loved it. It was clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career as a trial attorney,” she says. Within six months of passing the bar, Angélicque was trying her first case; a few years later, she was on a partnership track at a firm. “I always wanted to be a partner in a firm,” Angélicque says. But “circumstances such as family [she now has four children] and needing more autonomy made me consider starting my own practice with a partner. And I have to tell you quite honestly, I’ve never looked back.”
Growing the law practice
Avanzino & Moreno was initially Angélicque, partner John Avanzino and a paralegal. “Then based on the business we were taking in, we knew we had to hire other attorneys,” she says, even though doing so was a financial risk. “As a personal injury attorney, we work strictly on a contingency basis, but you have to have that leap of faith to some degree that the proceeds are going to be there based on the business that you’re taking in to cover the hires.”
Networking played a major role in filling the firm’s pipeline of cases. Angélicque joined numerous bar associations—she especially advocates participating in those focused on areas outside of one’s specialty—and served as president of the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers. In addition, she was a founding board member and, from 2014-2015, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Rotary Club. She invested in some modest advertising too: commercials on Spanish-speaking TV channels (she speaks Spanish fluently), ads in local newspapers, notices in church bulletins, “even in supermarkets, some of the shopping carts that had these little signs on them,” she says. “But you still have to have money coming in order to invest. So, I can’t say that I threw all my money into advertising immediately. It was letting people know that I was there to try cases, I was available and I started getting cases that way. And once that income stream started coming in, then I could put more money into advertising dollars.”
And then there’s what Angélicque calls her greatest source of referrals: word of mouth. “If you treat your clients like they matter and you do well for them and you show them that they can come to your office to stop over any time to ask a question, they can call and you’re going to speak with them… they will tell other people about what a great job we did. And they will refer me to their sister, their brother, their friend, their co-worker.”
This is all the more reason not to balk at investing in your business even during the lean start-up years, Angélicque says. Without more than sufficient staff from the beginning, the firm would not have been able to give clients and prospects the personalized attention that leads to referrals.
“I don’t skimp on trials. I do not skimp on experts, and I don’t skimp on salaries,” Angélicque says. “I would tell everyone when you’re in that position that you’re hiring people, don’t think, ‘I can pay someone less money. I’m going to save here.’ Do not. Pay them what they feel they are worth, what their value is, because they will be happy and they’ll work hard for you. And they’ll stay with you, which I think is very important in terms of continuity.”
As the adage goes, it takes money to make money. “I don’t look at it, in terms of managing my firm, as how I can save money,” Angélicque says. “For me, it’s how I can make money.”
I don’t look at it, in terms of managing my firm, as how I can save money, for me, it’s how I can make money.
Striking a balance
Angélicque refuses to have financial success come at the expense of her personal life—after all, being able to spend time with family was a key reason she joined Avanzino to create their own firm. “I do very well financially, [but I also] have a quality of life. I can make it to my kids’ games, I can take vacations,” Angélicque says. “There was a time that the only time you had off was when you left work at 7:00 PM or your two weeks’ vacation. And that’s not exactly how I move forward. I do work. I work a lot, but I can do that anywhere.”
One tool that enables her to do so is CloudLex case management software. “I would say one of the most important advancements we made was having a case management software system,” she says. “Without a doubt, it was a game-changer. It allowed me to manage my office from literally anywhere. I’m able to run reports, I manage my calendar, I email my adversary, no matter where I am physically. To have that kind of information at my fingertips is priceless.”
Beyond the flexibility CloudLex allows, it simplifies and automates tasks and workflows, freeing Angélicque and her team from time-consuming administrative functions. “For instance, CloudLex has the ability to prepare bills to particulars for you and everything that comes with that,” she explains. “And I have used that function and that has been wonderful because sometimes, at different times of the year, I will have the demands, for instance, for bill particulars and my paralegals might be working on something else. I can call CloudLex—actually, I send an email—and they will prepare these documents for me.”
With this “extra” time, “we can take on more quality cases without the fear that we cannot manage our caseload,” Angélicque says. And taking on more cases, of course, results in making more money without investing more time.
Without a doubt, CloudLex was a game-changer. It allowed me to manage my office from literally anywhere. I’m able to run reports, I manage my calendar, I email my adversary, no matter where I am physically. To have that kind of information at my fingertips is priceless.
Words to the wise
Angélicque has a number of suggestions for other attorneys starting or thinking about launching their own practice. One is not to put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. For personal injury practitioners, that might mean expanding beyond being a trial firm due to an increased emphasis on arbitration and mediation. “I think you need to have a variety of cases. You need to be able to have direct cases and referred cases. I also have friends who expanded their practices to include commercial. So, it’s always thinking outside of the box.”
Another is to look beyond the résumé when hiring. “Now when I interview, depending on the position, I’m going to ask the prospective hire to, for instance, if it’s a paralegal, to prepare a pleading or simply to write a letter. You’ll be so surprised how much you learn from someone trying to write a letter,” Angélicque says. “Also, in that same vein, don’t be afraid to let someone go. Sometimes you have to make that decision that the best thing for your firm is to terminate someone who is not being productive, despite the fact that you might like them as a person.”
Perhaps her best advice, however, is this: “Be bold. Believe in yourself. There are going to be challenges, but never doubt that you can handle them.”
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