“We’re a genuine group of attorneys and staff who really want to help people. That’s what we do. That’s all we do. And the keyword there is genuine,” says Brent A. Duque, Esq., founder of the Law Offices of Brent A. Duque, PLC.
The firm specializes in civil litigation in areas such as wrongful death cases, motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, trucking accidents, dog bite incidents, premises liability cases, product defect cases and construction accidents. His firm has brought almost 4000 cases to conclusion during the past 13 years, with a 98 percent success rate. The twelve-member firm employs attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants, investigators, administrators and office managers.
“I’ve always wanted to help people, especially the people that grew up like I did, with nothing. If you don’t grow up rich, you learn early on how to work hard. I always say, ‘You can’t teach hungry.’ It was always important for me to become an attorney for the underdog and provide equal access to justice for everyone, not just the rich or connected,” Duque says. Duque and his staff most often find themselves representing the underdog in legal “David vs. Goliath” cases. Duque says, “I love to represent the underdog. I love being David and I love the sound of when Goliath hits the ground.”
A CASE OF “DRIVE-THRU” LAW
One of the firm’s cases proves how hard David has to work and the dedication to client service needed to slay a Goliath. One of the firm’s first cases was a Kentucky Fried Chicken vehicle accident case occurring at the drive-thru window. The property damage wasn’t severe, but the client described a large impact, which resulted in shoulder tears and required her to undergo shoulder surgery. The insurance company offered nothing, stating the vehicles where not going fast enough to cause an injury. The victim was dropped by several attorneys before approaching Duque.
He took the case on shortly before the statute ran out. In an example of how Duque and his staff approach every case with genuine interest and care for their clients’ well-being, he invested time to get to know his client and the challenges she personally faced due to the incident.
From their conversations, he learned that the impact occurred as soon as the KFC employee handed over the food. Duque realized the case depended on finding the person who handed his client the food two years earlier. That employee didn’t work at that location anymore. Duque called 126 of the 440 KFC locations in California before getting a lead. He found the sister of the employee who was handing his client the food.
He obtained the woman’s number and found the one and only witness. At her deposition, the witness actually described two major impacts and remembered the elderly defendant driver say that he accidentally hit the gas instead of the brakes, twice. The case settled a week later for the $250,000 policy limits.
“I truly honor the trust people put in me and my firm when they have one of the biggest problems they’re going to have in their lives. Like that woman, they come to us hoping we can help them. The intrinsic rewards of helping those people go far beyond any financial rewards. That client still refers me clients to this day,” he says.
UP FROM THE STREETS
Duque, raised by immigrant parents, grew up in La Puente, California. “I was never the best student during school. I was more a product of the streets and that’s where I got my first sense of what justice is,” he says.
After graduating from West Covina High School and Mt. San Antonio Junior College, he graduated from Cal State University Fullerton with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. After obtaining his undergraduate degree, he did his graduate studies in Education and Public Administration at California Polytechnic University Pomona. Inspired by his mother, a teacher, his goal at that time was to become an educator.
Duque got a taste of the law during college when he interned at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (East District). The work was a foreshadowing of his future path in life. He taught sixth grade for several years in El Monte, California where his career path began to change. His sense of justice was aroused when standardized testing became the main focus of teaching, which underrepresented Hispanic and other minority students. Although he loved teaching, he knew law was that next step.
In 1999 he was accepted at Whittier Law School. His plan was to specialize in education law — a plan that did not work out. “I couldn’t find any jobs in that practice area, so I ended up working at a personal injury firm and I loved it. It was a perfect fit for my personality and my desire to help others. I love to help fix problems,” he says.
NO MORE CHURN ’N BURN
Duque built a successful career and a sound reputation working for a number of firms, but his desire for a more genuine and personal relationship with each client was at odds with the prevailing business philosophy. Too often he felt the “churn ’n burn” attitude was standard procedure.
“I felt like things had to be done with more emphasis on getting to know the clients. I wanted to be able to go to their houses. I wanted to see pictures of their families. I wanted to learn how their injuries affected them. I wanted to know what they liked to do before the accident. I wanted to sit down with a client, to get to know them, to have a glass of wine or beer or a cup of coffee and invest the time to learn what they think of life. The law firms I worked for did not see it the same way. To establish my reputation and credibility as a lawyer who would not roll over, I had to start my own law firm and build a reputation for fighting until the end for our clients,” he says.
He founded The Law Office of Brent A. Duque, PLC in 2007. Four members of his previous firm made the move with him. At first they operated out of one of the employee’s apartment. Later they moved to offices in Newport Beach where they began to build a substantial client base. He plans on doubling his office by moving into facilities in Newport Beach this year.
Duque was determined to build a different kind of law firm, one based on substantial client communication combined with an unrelenting aggressiveness in aiding recovery for them from their injuries and getting them the maximum compensation.
SMILIN’ ’N DIALIN’
Putting together the right team to meet the multiple challenges of facing off against some of the giants of the industry was a key element in building the successful firm. “First and foremost you have to hire the right personality for the firm then things will fall in place better. We want people who are hungry. We want people who have not been handed everything in life. We want people with real experiences. That way of life really resonates and people find commonality with our clients,” he says.
His management philosophy is to provide the resources each member of the team needs to be successful at their given task. One of those resources is the retraining into the close communication style of client contact espoused by the firm.
Retraining focuses on spending quality time with the client. Duque discovered that new hires from big firms often haven’t had the time or the encouragement to get to know their clients. The Duque firm approach is to encourage real conversations with the clients—to explore what’s going on and to find out how they’re really feeling about their case, their attorneys and their future.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The employees feel like they’re being trained on how to be a better person overall and the client learns that their attorney is truly invested in them. They often hear clients say, “No one else has asked me these questions. We’ve talked to several lawyers and nobody’s asked us these questions before.”
Duque says, “We have a theme in our office. I want the client to know that we care and are ‘smiling on the other end of the phone call.’ It makes them feel better. It makes them feel more involved and that we really care. We call it smilin’ ’n dialin’. We want our clients to know that we care and that they leave the conversation more informed about the situation than before the call. It’s important to us. We say beat ‘em to the phone. Call ‘em first. Call ‘em often. If you call somebody first, they know you’re on top of the situation. You’re not playing defense after the client calls or has tried to call. We want people to know that they have hired a law office. They haven’t hired a bunch of high school kids trying to settle cases.”
The genuine concern shown for clients is reflected too in the number of referrals sent to Duque and his attorneys, which is about 40 percent of their case load. Although most referrals are from past and present clients, a significant number of cases arrive from the offices of other attorneys—a transition Duque has worked toward for years. The firm has established a reputation as people who are as professional as they are easy to work with. They carefully review, analyze, and apply a specific legal strategy for each case referred and make it a policy to get to know the client immediately. “This helps us understand the case and client better. The relationship that we establish with a client is one of trust,” Duque says.
Many law firms have referred clients in a number of different ways—from preparing for and attending a mediation only, associating in as co-counsel, or completely taking over the case to trial. The firm pays generous and significant referral fees.
Finding, training, motivating and avoiding the trap of micromanaging the right team is the key element to the firm’s success. Duque says, “I am proud to say we have a group of rock stars. Not because we are showy and proud, but because we know what we are doing and we listen and we care. We are a close family. We also use our team’s extensive experience as both insurance defense attorneys and Plaintiff attorneys to win. We know how insurance industries work to de-value claims and create a strategy for each individual to maximize their recovery.”
Duque believes in giving back to the community and the firm is active in supporting a number of organizations and causes, including Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), Feed the Children, the National Ataxia Foundation, Little League Baseball, AYSO Soccer, Catholic Youth Ministries, and the Whittier Law School Trial Advocacy Competitions.
He and his wife, Megan, have two boys, Andrew (8) and Dylan (5), and a girl Blake (4).The family enjoys tennis, taking the kids surfing, camping, playing board games and traveling to other states and countries. They also enjoy pro soccer and Dodger games and having friends and family over for parties and get-togethers. “I make a hell of a margarita,” Duque says.
His appreciation of life grows each year. “People who know what it’s like to be hungry, appreciate life the most. Appreciate everything, the wins and the losses. Appreciate your mistakes by learning from them. If your only goal of being an attorney is to make money, pack your bags and do something else. You have to be honest, work hard, and never give up,” he says.