By Sarah Kuper
Social science journalist Malcolm Gladwell has a theory that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.
Alexander Shunnarah, ubiquitous Birmingham personal injury lawyer, said he hasn't kept track of his hours, but he expects he's close to 10,000.
"I think of counting them up sometime and I'm probably there but I know I've spent a tremendous amount of time trying to gobble up whatever I can get my hands on about marketing," he said.
Shunnarah isn't implying he has mastered the practice of law, but rather the strategy of marketing his law firm.
In fact, Shunnarah has been recognized by The Trial Lawyer national magazine as Master of Marketing for 2016.
"It's an honor because each state has at least 10 'Alexander Shunnarahs,' so for the magazine to recognize me ... I don't know what to say," he said.
Shunnarah said he's never really been a trial lawyer. Rather, his strength lies in negotiating settlements and in making sure his name is top of mind for anyone working through a personal injury case.
"Not everyone is going to call me, but I want them to at least know to think of me," he said.
Shunnarah said he is proud of the team of attorneys he has hired over the years and they are the key to his ability to expand into new territories and even across state lines.
Having great employees has given Shunnarah the freedom to handle the marketing and growth of his brand.
"The marketing and strategies are my ideas. That way if things fail or aren't successful, it's on me. I read everything I can get my hands on and I go with my gut. I make educated guesses and calculated risks," he said.
There are media buyers who help Shunnarah with purchasing and executing his marketing plan.
He said he never plans to stick only with what seems to be working. He's going to keep ads and commercials different enough to catch attention while remaining within the professional rules of marketing.
With his "Call me Alabama!" catchphrase, Shunnarah has hundreds of billboards as far north as Tennessee and into Mississippi and Georgia.
His TV ads run during peak times and feature real cases portrayed by actors.
Shunnarah said that, while each element of his marketing strategy builds on another, it is likely the billboards that keep his name and face top of mind.
"It would be foolish not to say the billboards are probably the most effective – just because of the sheer number of them," he said.
This August will be 15 years since Shunnarah opened his first office on Clairmont Road.
He said the first 10 years were very lean, but then in 2010 business exploded.
"It's a perfect example of planting a tree and watching it grow. Now, it has been some time and it has started to produce the best fruit," he said.
As cases piled up, Shunnarah opened more offices and hired support staff and attorneys.
He said he likes to hire local attorneys who are a part of the community and truly desire to help people.
Shunnarah graduated from Birmingham School of Law, where he attended at night while working with his father's businesses during the day.
He and his father ran several small businesses such as gas stations, small bookstores and delicatessens.
Now that his law firm has reached a fever pitch, Shunnarah said he is on the road a good bit but he is happier when he is home with his family in Vestavia Hills.
"It's easier than ever to travel but when I come home I want to come home to Vestavia,” he said. “It's convenient and we love it here."
His three daughters attend Vestavia schools and he and his wife, Lorena, are involved in ministries at Church of the Highlands.
Shunnarah said Alabamians can expect to start seeing his advertising statewide and even on the roads to other large cities such as Nashville, New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi.
His goal is for his law firm to be a large presence throughout the Southeast.
In addition to his recognition as Master of Marketing, Shunnarah was selected to speak at the Mass Torts Made Perfect Conference in April.
The conference is the largest plaintiff mass torts gathering in the world.
Shunnarah has 14 offices in four states with 24 areas of law practice.
His firm has represented at least 15,000 clients in the past 15 years.