Speed, Unprecedented Speed
Why Ali Awad says social media is the future of the legal business
Published in 2022 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine on February 14, 2022
Ask Ali Awad why he chose “CEO Lawyer” as his social media handle and he’ll talk for 10 minutes—a nonstop, driven 10 minutes—namechecking Dr. Phil and Kid Rock, and delving into his past without delving too deeply into his past. That part comes later in the conversation.
Initially he simply mentions growing up working with his hands in machine shops and stereo shops—so he appreciates the value of manual labor and he knows about workplace injuries. He talks about starting a business online way back in middle school—so he knows the business and online angle. In law school, he says, he realized there were go-to social media influencers in most professions: Dr. Phil in psychiatry, Grant Cardone in real estate, Supercar Blondie in the automotive world.
But lawyers? Bupkis.
“And so I decided to go for that spot,” he says. “And I wanted a name that I could potentially grow into, not just, ‘Hey, I’m the Kennesaw, Georgia, personal injury/car accident lawyer.’ You know what I mean? I didn’t want to be stuck in a Kid Rock situation, where you’re 70 years old and people still call you Kid Rock.”
And that’s why @ceolawyer was born.
He thought it up in 2016 when he was a $40k-a-year associate; then he made and posted videos about free legal advice, and the cases began to pour in. “And I realized, ‘This is something special,’” he says. “Everyone struggles with bringing in clients, and I figured out a way to do it because it was an untapped big blue ocean. It was untapped potential.”
From there he hung a shingle, spent $6,000 to boost his videos on social media, and generated quite a bit in revenue. “Settlements,” he says. “I’d work them up, I’d settle them with the insurance company. By December 31, we had $3.2 million.”
Awad now has nearly 10,000 followers on Facebook, 200,000 followers on TikTok, and more than a million on Instagram. It’s a rare day when he goes out into Metro Atlanta and isn’t recognized. “And if I’m going to put a bet on anything, I’d say in the next five years the industry standard for law firms is that everyone has a videographer in-house,” he says. “Everyone invests on social media to build a brand and target people and build that online reputation. Your Instagram page is your new website. Your Facebook page is your new website. Because clients are getting older, and the young ones that grew up with MySpace like I did, grew up with a laptop and internet like I did, they make decisions based off of what they know, not what their parents used to do. And that is all on social media.”
Awad is speaking on an October morning, during another week of Facebook scandals, but he still has the fervor of a true believer. He even offers a warning to those with a foot still in the 20th century. “Sitting and meeting clients in your office three days after they were involved in an accident, and then figuring out their injuries and all the stuff later on, that’s old news,” he says. “Within five minutes, someone messages me on Instagram, they’re already signed up, they’re already my client, and they’re in the process of building up their personal injury claim.
“Speed,” he says. “Unprecedented speed.”
His practice area, personal injury, isn’t even really designed for the social media world, he says, then ticks off PAs that he feels do better: consumer protection, bankruptcy, credit repair, immigration and criminal defense. “People actually want to learn that information,” he says. “They want to figure out how to learn the system and not get taken advantage of, how to go through bankruptcy and avoid having all of their assets seized, how to build up their credit.
“Personal injury is reactive. You can see my ad all you want, but until you’ve been injured in an accident that’s not your fault, and the other person has insurance, and you’re willing to treat for it and see a doctor—you need all those requirements just to become a client. That’s why it’s hard. We’re in a branding play, not in a lead-gen play.”
In his ads, he plays off his name: “Call Awad to win a wad.” But it’s a question about his name that leads to the deep part of the conversation.
Growing up in Dalton, Georgia, did other kids make fun of his name?
“All the time,” he says.
Did he get teased or picked on?
“All the time,” he says.
How old was he on 9/11?
“Eleven,” he says.
Shortly after that dark day, he remembers his fifth-grade teacher pulling him aside and offering support: “Hey, look, if anything happens, just let us know.” Then a big white kid called him out in front of the class—“Hey, Ali, why are your uncles killing us, man?”—and no one, teacher included, did anything to defend him.
“And I’m thinking, ‘Afghanistan, it’s not even my country. I don’t even know these people.’ But for them, they’ve seen my mom pick me up and she’s wearing the hijab: ‘Oh, they look like those people that are on TV. Muslim equals bad guy.’
Awad’s parents had been kicked out of Palestine and were living in Dubai when his father sent his mother, eight-and-a-half months pregnant with him, to the U.S. so he could be born here. Then it was back to the Emirates, where he lived until he was about 3. But most of his early memories are of Dalton.
“I never really fit in as an Arab Muslim kid in the Bible Belt in Georgia,” he says. “So in some ways, you could say I had to fit in with everyone. When I’m hanging out with my Black friends, I change around my accent and my verbiage. Hang around with my white friends, it was different. I’d play football just to kind of fit in. Hang around with the nerds, figure out how to play chess.” His friends tended to be first-generation Mexican-Americans. “Now my Spanish is better than my Arabic,” he says.
Past wrongs still fuel him: getting a perfect score in a math contest along with a white kid and placing second instead of sharing first; being refused a letterman’s jacket he earned; being overlooked after winning the Iron Catamounts weightlifting competition. “You can imagine the level of hatred that I have for people that treat me unfairly,” he says.
Yet he’s able to spin much of these past negatives into present positives. Fitting in with all the different groups means he’s never met anyone he can’t relate to. And he doesn’t want anyone else to feel as helpless as he did back then.
Awad believes in the American dream, just not one filtered through the usual rhetoric. “I grew up where I would see 10, 12 Mexicans live in a $300-a-month apartment right next to me,” he says. “And I’d see them go out every morning, hustle, do what they need to do.” They’d work six, seven days a week, save their money, buy cars and a home. “That’s not something that is possible in a lot of other countries. And people still forget that. So despite all of the racism and the unfairness and injustices that I went through, this is still the greatest country for our opportunity. You don’t get as many opportunities in other countries as you do here.”
Law firms talk up diversity but Ali Awad Law looks like a virtual model U.N. He says it wasn’t a conscious choice. “I never look at a candidate and say, ‘Hey, they’d be good with the mix because of their color.’ The truth is when you put everyone on an even playing field, foreigners will always outwork second- and third-generation Americans. Always.”
It’s speed he’s after. Unprecedented speed.
“I like people that are driven and hungry,” he says. “The people that are on my team now, I feel like they bought into the dream that I’m building and I’m looking to accomplish. My job as a CEO is to have a large enough dream where everyone else’s dream fits inside it. And then I have to sell that dream to them every single day.”