Episode 5: You Get More With Honey
The Bootstrapped Solo, hosted by Pratik Shah, is back with plaintiff lawyer, business owner and author — Reza Torkzadeh. Hear Reza’s anecdotes about how he went from maxing out credit cards to client overload TOMORROW on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and iHeart Media.
Pratik Shah (00:08):
Hi everybody, and welcome to Bootstrapped Solo. I am your host Pratik Shah. And today we are going to be talking about the good, the bad and the ugly about running your own practice. This podcast is for those that want to know what it’s really like to start, run and grow a practice. Today’s guest is Reza Torkzadeh. He runs a 35 person practice that focuses on personal injury, and he started his practice back in July, 2012, and has been growing strong ever since. Reza, thanks for being on the show.
Reza Torkzadeh (00:38):
Thanks for having me, Pratik.
Pratik Shah (00:40):
Awesome. Thank you. And you wrote this wonderful book and I’m glad I was able to read it before you came on. It’s called The Lawyer As CEO. I do recommend it to anybody that’s listening. It really talks a lot about what we’re going to talk about today, your early days and how you realize at some point that, hey, I need to be not just a lawyer, but a business owner.
Reza Torkzadeh (01:01):
Absolutely. The journey from law school to starting my own practice is one that I think I never was prepared for, number one, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that I wanted to be a good lawyer and do good work and represent people and make a meaningful impact on people’s lives, I just don’t think I ever appreciated what it meant to actually be a business owner. And then ultimately a CEO of a company where you’re responsible for so many people, so many big decisions and the consequences of those decisions. And so, in writing that book, it was really an exercise of making myself extremely vulnerable and sharing a lot of experiences that I think a lot of us business owners and lawyers don’t normally share, which is really a lot of the challenges that I faced.
Reza Torkzadeh (02:04):
And ultimately realizing that, look, the buck stops with me, it starts at the top and that’s where everything starts and ends. And so the journey has been truly a fascinating one for me as a lawyer and then a business owner. To describe it as a roller coaster I think is an understatement, but I love what I do. I’ve always loved it. I’ve had a passion for representing people and for providing a service to the community that I think very few professions allow you to do. And that’s really being able to change people’s lives every day through the work that we do. And so it’s been an amazing journey.
Pratik Shah (02:52):
That’s awesome, man. As I said at the top of the show, you started your practice in 2012 and you mentioned a couple things in there, and there’s a couple anecdotes in the book that I want to talk about, because I found them fascinating and we texted about them a little bit. But before we get into that, I want to talk about the very beginning. Obviously you’ve gotten to this place now where you realize, hey, not only are you a lawyer and you’re responsible for your client’s lives and what’s going to happen there, but as a business owner, you’re responsible for your employees lives.
Pratik Shah (03:21):
They make decisions in their life, whether it’s to buy a house or have a child, et cetera, on the basis that I’m going to have this job and Reza can continue to bring in business and continue to run this and the paychecks are going to continue to come and clear. And so that is a huge responsibility that you’re at now. But when you started in 2012, it was just you, right?
Reza Torkzadeh (03:45):
Absolutely. I think you said 35 employees, we’re actually 54.
Pratik Shah (03:51):
54. I’m sorry.
Reza Torkzadeh (03:55):
I’ll tell you, it was the summer of 2012, I had just gotten married. So brand new couple, married couple. We moved into a condo that we couldn’t afford, but we bought it anyways. I decided that I was going to leave a firm that I was with for the first five years of my legal career and start from scratch with no money, and really just a spare bedroom in that condo that we couldn’t afford. I was living off of credit cards. I was borrowing money from family and friends. But again, I think the passion really kept me in plaintiff’s work and in running my own firm, except now I got to do it my way, the way that I wanted to do it, the way that I had envisioned myself practicing law.
Reza Torkzadeh (04:50):
It was a very scary time. It was just me in that spare bedroom. I didn’t have an office. I had an executive suite that I’d show up and pick up mail from. Listen, I took every case that came in through the door. It didn’t matter. No property damage, I wanted it. Prop 213, I wanted it. At fault, I wanted it. But the one thing that I never lost sight of was something that I tell my staff every day, that we are a customer service business that happens to practice law. And the client always came first regardless. And so like most solos who just started their practice, I had a cell phone, and every client had my cell phone number. I was answering calls all hours of the day and night, it didn’t matter. Weekends, it didn’t matter. Still today, I’m working on the weekends and at nights.
Reza Torkzadeh (05:42):
But those early days were very scary. I think the thing that really got me through, that made the most difference for me was the fact that I believed in what I was doing. I truly loved what I was doing. I loved my clients. I loved getting to meet new people and then making those significant changes in others lives was really what was motivating me. First five years in the practice of law, I didn’t make any money. Now, here I am starting a brand new practice, never having made really any significant money, how was I going to now all of a sudden after five years on a brand new practice, make it a profitable business?
Reza Torkzadeh (06:26):
I think those were the things that I discovered early on and the things that I had to do to actually turn it from a profession of practicing law and client first, to, okay, let’s combine that with also actually making a living.
Pratik Shah (06:41):
Well, exactly. Because at the end of the day, of course, we absolutely need to take care of our clients and what we do, we’re meeting a lot of clients that are in the worst position they’ve ever been in their lives and they’re relying on us to help them navigate it. Absolutely. But at the end of the day, if you’re not a profitable business, you can’t help anybody. If you can’t keep the lights on, if you can’t pay your payroll, if you can’t pay your experts, if you can’t pay for medical records, you can’t help anybody. You have to be able to do both. You don’t want to sacrifice one for the other either way, but you have to be able to do both. And that’s really the art of navigating, running your own practice.
Pratik Shah (07:20):
Now, when you talked a little bit about, in 2012 when you started in this spare bedroom, I’m really going to deep dive here. Okay? I want you to go back. This is like therapy session. Okay? We’re going back to those days. 2012, you’re on the credit cards, how did that work for you? Were you just like, hey honey, I know you married this guy who you thought had a job, but sorry, things are changing. How’d that conversation go?
Reza Torkzadeh (07:47):
I’ve got maybe the most supportive wife that has ever existed. She was excited. She was happy for me. We have that conversation now. And I said, honey, what went through your mind? Weren’t you thinking like, holy? The one thing she said is I believed in you and how passionate you were about what you were doing, and I wasn’t going to stand in the way of you achieving those goals and aspiring to bigger and better things. I think she saw often my relationship with my clients, the conversations that we had, and she realized the significance of the work that I was doing. And a lot of these clients were, I joke about the Prop 213s and the no property damage, but I had clients that were catastrophically injured with brain injuries or amputations, or catastrophic wrongful death cases that have devastated an entire family.
Reza Torkzadeh (08:46):
And so she saw that responsibility and she saw the burden that I took on. And the true honor, I took on that responsibility to represent these folks. I don’t think it was really a monetary, hey, I’m starting a startup computer company or some wild dream that I was chasing. I was actually representing individuals whose lives, as you said earlier, maybe the worst times in their lives.
Pratik Shah (09:17):
This space, when you launched, obviously a lot of personal injury firms existed, right? The firm you worked at was a personal injury firm?
Reza Torkzadeh (09:30):
It was. Yeah.
Pratik Shah (09:31):
So you had some experience in the space, you understood what the competition looked like, what the market looked like, you decided to start your own practice. Hey, you saw something where you’re like, you know what, there’s just a certain way I want to do things that maybe either doesn’t exist or at the end of the day I’m going to do it my way regardless of whoever and whatever I’m competing with. How long did that a phase last, where you were credit card to credit card, living on borrowed, dimes and money, how long till you felt like, okay, this thing is sustaining itself finally, nobody’s rich, but it’s now sustaining itself?
Reza Torkzadeh (10:09):
That’s a great question. And so I would say, and it felt an eternity. But for about a year, and I got really lucky, very lucky with a case that’s settled for seven figures within about the first year of me starting this new firm.
Pratik Shah (10:33):
Reza Torkzadeh (10:33):
And it is incredible. When you talk about seven figure cases and they’re so rare, and they’re hard to find, and there’s the incredible hyper competitive nature of this business, especially in Southern California, I got very lucky early on, but it felt like an eternity. It felt like forever. And the longer the time went on, the deeper the debt got, the darker the hole go.
Pratik Shah (11:00):
And you feel like it’s quicksand, where it’s like it just gets worse. You just feel you’re going deeper and deeper and where is this lifeline going to come from?
Reza Torkzadeh (11:14):
You’re absolutely right. Look, contingency fee, firm owners understand the conversation when we have it. you’re getting paid maybe, sometime, maybe you lose, maybe you win. You’re going to have to spend more money and you’re going to have to continue to spend to keep the lights on. The one thing that I never did was really focus on my competition. I never did that. I still don’t do that today. There’s just no outspending competition. You just can’t do it. And me as a business owner and the responsibility that I’ve got to my team now, I would never go head to head with another firm or competitor to try to outspend them on who’s going to get the next case. It’s just not the nature. And I didn’t start-
Pratik Shah (12:04):
Just to jump in, but right on topic, one of the things you talked about in the book also is looking at where you want to spend your marketing dollars. Obviously where you’re at now is a different firm than where you were at in 2012. And you’ve got the right people in place, so on and so forth, always evolving. But a lot different place is that you had considered going to sponsor one of the local sports teams.
Reza Torkzadeh (12:30):
That’s right. I do talk about that. So major sports team, there’s so many ways, different ways you could spend your money on advertising. I talk about it in the book, when I sat down and really thought about, why do I want to do this? Why would I want my firm to have their name all over this stadium or attached to this team? And the reality was, I don’t know that would’ve driven any business through the doors. I think that was an ego play. I think we all have to check ourselves. And I say it all the time, I have no ego. I like to think I don’t. And I like to think that I act and live without an ego. But that decision would’ve been an ego play, to see our name as opposed to, hey, is this a good decision for the overall firm? Is this actually going to drive business in the door or is it going to make us feel good?
Pratik Shah (13:29):
I think that’s a beautiful point, right? Is that I think we all can have confidence in our abilities and we can have confidence in what we’re building and where we’re going, but you can’t let ego drive your decision making, because that’s just a recipe for disaster. It does happen a lot. In the beginning you really want to get through those tough stages. You really just can’t have an ego at all because you’re doing everything, there’s really no ego. If you’re going to have an ego about, hey, I’m a lawyer, I can’t be the one ordering medical records. You got to let that go, because that’s just never going to, that’s not going to fly.
Pratik Shah (14:03):
And then as you get to your stage, it’s almost like you got to check your egos again, because now you’ve built something. Maybe you have people handling the tasks that are a little bit easier, but now it’s bigger decisions that could really move, that could really devastate the firm or set back the firm on its growth if you make a decision that’s based on ego and not based on a logical, hey, how does this fit into the overall plan of what we’re doing? Right?
Reza Torkzadeh (14:32):
Absolutely right. Absolutely right. This is kind of, we’re learning as we go, right? Nobody ever taught us how to be business owners. I didn’t go to business school, and law school they didn’t teach you that, in undergrad they didn’t teach you that. You learn as you go. I think that really ties into it starts and ends at the top. Right? The decisions you make are no longer decisions that impact you. When I was in that condo, spare bedroom, it’s a little bit easier to make decisions that ultimately may fail. Right? The risks that you take. I don’t think that I’ll ever stop taking the risks that I take and some of them work, some of them don’t, but I think a big one like the one you pointed out, something like a major sports franchise sponsorship, that could be devastating to a marketing budget for an entire year. I think it’s just important to look in the mirror and really take a step back often and realize what is driving the decisions.
Pratik Shah (15:48):
Backtracking a little bit, in the beginning we talked about advertising and generating business. Two things. One, I think that there is a stigma that maybe some people have when it comes to advertising and marketing, but at the end of the day, people have to hear about your business one way or another. You talked about this in your book as well, is that, the budgets that exist, maybe you can’t compete with them and you definitely can’t compete with them in the beginning. Obviously you couldn’t compete with them either because you were working through credit cards. How did you even generate business in the beginning?
Reza Torkzadeh (16:23):
A lot of phone calls with other lawyers to get their overflow or get their referrals, family, friends. That was a big one. And really putting yourself out there and making sure you’re having your lunches with folks that could potentially send you business, that you are visiting with some of the lawyers that are getting most of the advertising cases, that they are spending and asking for their overflow. And then ultimately if you do a good job for those clients that you’re representing, they’re going to refer their family and friends to you, if you do a good job, if you treat them well. I’ll tell you, we have had results, seven figure results where the clients ultimately ended up hating us at the end because of the way they were treated.
Reza Torkzadeh (17:08):
But we’ve also settled cases for $1,000, but the way that client felt, the way we treated them, they have been our best referral source, and it happens. Ultimately I think it comes down to how you’re treating people, how you represent yourself, are you getting good results? But how do you make people feel when you’re working with them, whether it’s a client or opposing counsel. We get cases from opposing counsel all the time, and it’s because we treat them with respect, with dignity. They know we do a good job. It’s easy to be an asshole. It is.
Pratik Shah (17:44):
For some people it feels like that’s a default defense mechanism.
Reza Torkzadeh (17:48):
Yeah. It could be. I think a lot of people, especially plaintiff’s lawyers, they look at other examples of maybe folks that are of a different generation who that was the tactic and that’s the way to get results. For me, it was always the opposite. It was, you get more with honey as they say.
Pratik Shah (18:05):
What do you think in the early days was the hardest moment. If you can think back and say from that 2012 you started, even the first couple years, what was a moment in those early days where you felt this is really tough, this is not what I thought it was going to be like?
Reza Torkzadeh (18:24):
I talk about this in the book and you and I briefly chatted about this. I think maybe the worst day ever that I had owning the firm, we had probably got to over 25 employees. And we were just looking for warm bodies. We couldn’t find people fast enough to hire and fill the seats. The firm took a life of its own. The culture went a different direction. I spent most of my days dealing with internal issues, drama and politics internally within the firm, with the staff, to the point where I didn’t even want to go into the office anymore. It was very stressful. Because here I am, we’ve gotten to a point where it is a profitable business, we’re doing a good job. We’ve got more cases coming in the door than we have people that can actually service them. But yet internally it was a mess.
Reza Torkzadeh (19:28):
I show up to work and it was just problem after problem, all self-inflicted all basically personalities of people that we were trying to manage. It was almost like a daycare. It got to the point where I truly, I told my wife, I said, look, I don’t think I even want to do this anymore. Which was crazy, because this was my life’s work. This was my passion. I love doing this. And now something almost totally unrelated, which are employees and staff have pushed me to the point where I didn’t even want to go into the office anymore. And so I’m not recommending anybody do this, but what I did was, I offered the entire staff.
Reza Torkzadeh (20:15):
We called an all hands meeting, into my office, everyone’s standing there. And I just remember vividly just saying, look, if you don’t want to be here, I’m going to pay you guys to leave. And you can have a great summer. And I offered three months severance to anyone who wanted it. They just needed to let me know by the end of the day. And when you talk about ego, I had ego back then, because I truly felt nobody would take that deal.
Pratik Shah (20:41):
When I was reading that in the book, I was like, nah, nobody accepted that. Go ahead.
Reza Torkzadeh (20:47):
That’s how I felt. I felt that, but that was the ego again. Right? I thought we had the best culture. I thought we had the best firm. I thought this was the best place to work, and I truly believe that, but we didn’t. And so half the firm took that offer and left.
Pratik Shah (21:07):
And that’s got to be a rough night when you go home, because you are already having issues. You already had so much intake, so many clients coming in, you already didn’t have enough people. And then within one day, I’m just going to say, it’s a Tuesday, for example, and you wake up Wednesday morning and you go, now what?
Reza Torkzadeh (21:26):
It was terrible. And more than anything, I felt like a failure. I felt I let everybody down. If you’re going to leave a job for three months severance, then you really didn’t care about that job enough. Right? I went home just remembering, there’s no way I’m recovering from this. This is the worst day of my life. Truly that’s what it felt like.
Pratik Shah (21:50):
Yeah. I can imagine. It was a lot, you said you were about 30 or so people at the time.
Reza Torkzadeh (21:56):
It was a lot of people. [inaudible 00:21:59]. It was over 15. I think it was 16 people left. Let me just say it was a very, very expensive day.
Pratik Shah (22:08):
Any firm, I don’t care what size you are, 16 people walk out on the same day, even if you’re a 500 person firm, that’s a lot of people to lose, because as a business you’re not supposed to have excess staff where you could lose 16 people and the business just keeps moving forward.
Reza Torkzadeh (22:27):
No, no, absolutely. And then on top of that to have to pay them each three month severance to leave, right? So very expensive. I really went home thinking I’m never recovering from this, that’s it. And came back to the office the very next day and got to work. Those people that stayed that day are still with me today.
Pratik Shah (22:48):
How long ago was that?
Reza Torkzadeh (22:50):
This was about, I want to say we’re going on six years ago.
Pratik Shah (22:55):
Reza Torkzadeh (22:56):
Five or six years ago.
Pratik Shah (22:57):
And what you found out, we focused this conversation and this topic on the ones that left, but really the true gems were the ones that stayed because you knew they were in it.
Reza Torkzadeh (23:06):
Pratik Shah (23:06):
They saw you as the guy. They trusted you. They believed you when you told them because what you had said in the book is what you said in the all hands meeting was essentially, hey, a lot’s going to change and we’re going to have to put in a lot of work and we’re really going to build a real firm now, because this isn’t what I wanted essentially to that degree. And so if you are in it and you are okay with the changes and you’re okay with what’s to come in the next couple months, then stay. And so the ones that stayed it’s like, that’s your core.
Reza Torkzadeh (23:35):
Totally, totally. Looking back now, it was the best day in the history of our firm. Best day ever. Because it was me facing the truth. Right? I was not a good leader at that time, because I was not setting an example. I was saying one thing and doing another. It really forced me as a business owner, as the leader of the firm to just be real with myself. And so I think had that not happened, the firm would not be where we are today.
Pratik Shah (24:13):
That’s amazing. And one of the things I’ve told young lawyers, I’m a pretty young lawyer, but younger lawyers that want to go and start their own is, I tell them when it comes to building your firm and growing it, everything is going to be one step backwards to go two step forwards. Because you like said earlier, nobody taught you how to run a business. Nobody taught me how to run a business. The only way you learn is by doing it. You make a mistake. And as long as you don’t have an extinction level mistake, and you felt that might have actually been an extinction level mistake, that’s to the edge. I wouldn’t even call it a mistake. I’m not saying it’s a mistake, but that was a potentially extinction level event that occurred, to lose that many people.
Reza Torkzadeh (24:54):
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. And you’re right. For folks who do want to start their own firm or who have just started their own firm, there’s nothing easy about it. You’ve got to wear so many different hats, so many different responsibilities, and it’s all on a contingency. It’s not like there’s cash flow coming in and everything’s ready to go. It’s not an easy journey. You have to truly love what you’re doing. You have to be passionate about it. And you got to be intentional about every single thing that you do, be intentional about hiring. Well, the reason that our firm culture was such a disaster and I was just dealing with personnel issues all the time, is because we didn’t have that culture in place.
Reza Torkzadeh (25:40):
We didn’t have that culture in place because I did not, I was not intentional about having that culture and what I represented. I assumed, well, I’m going to talk to these folks when they come in their interviews, I’ll talk to them about what my philosophy is and everyone believes it now, and everyone lives that way. Well, it doesn’t work like that. And so the only thing I would encourage young lawyers especially, A, make sure you love the practice of law and love the area, because it is often thinkless. And a lot of times you’re not making money. And a lot of times you could be making more money doing something else, and the stress level-
Pratik Shah (26:24):
Yeah it’s true. The first couple of years, that’s just facts, right?
Reza Torkzadeh (26:27):
Pratik Shah (26:29):
Your firm is a big exception. You’re probably in the top 1% of where your firm has gotten to and what you’ve built there. But most people that start their own firm, they’re going to be in that 99% where they’re going to be fine. They’ll do okay. But you hit a good point, is that a lot of times you might be making more money if you had stuck it out for six years or seven years at another firm. So if you’re doing it just because I’m going to go get rich, that’s the wrong reason.
Reza Torkzadeh (26:54):
I agree, man. I agree. I think emotionally and mentally, it’s hard to survive if that’s what’s driving you, is the money.
Pratik Shah (27:03):
Reza Torkzadeh (27:06):
What’s driving me even still today are truly my clients, and then now our team members, and our team members families and those people, and that’s really what’s driving me. It’s not, hey, let’s go make the most amount of money that we can. It’s truly, we’re operating with a purpose. I think that makes all the difference in the world. That is really what allows you to survive those catastrophic events, is that purpose. Because if it was just money, it probably would’ve been easier for me to just shut the doors and say, forget it. It was truly that the purpose. And so find your purpose.
Reza Torkzadeh (27:42):
And then as you start growing your practice and you start building, what is your culture? And live by your culture every day and share your culture every day internally. What are your core values? It can’t be money, because there’s other things you could be doing that will make you far significantly much more.
Pratik Shah (28:01):
You just go buy Bitcoin, right? Something like that.
Reza Torkzadeh (28:02):
There you go.
Pratik Shah (28:05):
But yeah, no, exactly. I think that, what you said is, you made a great point, which is, if your entire purpose is, hey, I just want to make X amount of dollars, then when it gets tough, it’s easy to pull the parachute and just leave and say, well, I didn’t make my X amount of dollars, this isn’t going to work, I’m out. But if there’s something more there, whatever it may be, everybody’s purpose is different and no judgment on whatever drives people. Right? Everybody’s got their own motivations.
Pratik Shah (28:34):
But I truly believe, and sounds like we fall in the same campus that, if you make it very clear as you hire people, as you train people, as you manage people, what is important to you and the firm, you will continually hire people that have that same things that drive them, and that’s how you’re going to develop the culture. It’s not just going to be because you stand in a conference room and yell at your staff that they should be doing X or Y or A, B, C.
Reza Torkzadeh (29:03):
Absolutely. I think something that I didn’t appreciate that I do today is how important that, we talk about culture and it’s a word that’s really overused. I just didn’t appreciate how important culture was to the business. I thought it just happens. I thought, look, you bring all these people. It starts with your hiring too. Look, finding good people is really tough. Right? But then finding good people that share your same value is even harder. And before we used to look for people and fit them where we thought they belong. Our hiring process is totally different now, and I talk about it in the book a little bit. And now our process, it’s a whole process.
Pratik Shah (29:53):
No, I loved it. You talked about using your job postings as an advertising space where you’re basically saying, this is what our firm is about. If that’s a place where you feel you want to work, then here’s how you get to work here. But you only really want people that want to work there and be a part of that. A lot of people may look at that job posting and say, yeah, that’s not what I want. Great, then-
Reza Torkzadeh (30:16):
Pratik Shah (30:16):
… that’s fine. No problem at all. It’s not what we want either. It’s great. It’s not just, here are your tasks, here’s how much we pay you, clock in and clock out and go home. No, this is what we’re about, and we want people that want to be about this as well.
Reza Torkzadeh (30:31):
Absolutely. I’ll tell you, we now look for reasons not to hire people versus reasons to hire them. I think that was a big mind shift. And so if there’s any takeaway really from this, it’s really be intentional about your hiring process. And then the mistake that I made over and over again with hiring, I’ve always, it was a mistake to hire out of desperation and just because you need somebody. Don’t hire out of desperation, hire the right people. We’re still learning. We’re still trying to perfect that process. But I think this idea of looking for reasons not to hire someone has extremely been valuable to us.
Pratik Shah (31:18):
One of the things I want to ask you and I think is, there’s a two schools of thought on this when it comes to balancing work and life. And as you start a practice, how did that look for you in the beginning? And what did that look like?
Reza Torkzadeh (31:37):
Gosh, man, it’s hard. And even still today the lines are still blurred, I’m not great at it, but I’ve gotten a lot better. I think having two small children now that really forces me to break away, vacations, I’m still working. It’s hard to break away from something that is such a big part of who I am. But I also understand the importance of self care and taking care of yourself. Me at my best is a lot more valuable than me stressed out and burnt out and tired and out of shape and not mentally clear. And so I’ve certainly gotten a lot better about that, but it’s just really hard when you have truly dedicated your life to something that you believe in that much.
Reza Torkzadeh (32:36):
And so to answer your question, I think it’s absolutely critical. It’s really important. I tell our team members and our staff all the time, I don’t want you working nights. I don’t want you working weekends. You got to exercise. You got to take care of yourself first, because we want the best version of you. And so I really believe that, it’s not bullshit. I truly believe that when I’m well rested, when I’m healthy, I’m at my best.
Pratik Shah (33:05):
But that’s really hard in the beginning, in those first couple years. I had a practice for a little over nine years and I never did it. I still don’t do it. It’s just not for me. But to each their own. But especially that first couple years, because if you’re case to case, if you’re credit card bill to credit card bill, how do you think about anything else?
Reza Torkzadeh (33:32):
You’re absolutely right, man. And I think what the truth is, not everything has to be responded to immediately.
Pratik Shah (33:41):
Reza Torkzadeh (33:42):
Not everything has to be done right this second. And oftentimes it’s better to step away and give it some room, give it a step. But you’re right, if you’re living case by case to pay those bills, it becomes very difficult. But I think also that adds to unnecessary pressure, that leads to all kinds of a whole host of other problems. And so it’s very difficult to do, especially in the early days. But if you take a step back and realize that not everything is the end of the world in that moment and give it some time to breathe, you’ll realize that taking some time away from whatever decision it is or whatever scenario it is, it makes it a lot easier for you to deal with.
Reza Torkzadeh (34:33):
At least for me, every time I’ve wanted to respond immediately to something or make a decision immediately to something that’s critical, I remind myself, just take a break, step back, or sleep on it and come back to it. And things become a lot easier once you do that.
Pratik Shah (34:52):
I think that’s an important point. It took me a long time to realize that too, is that you don’t have to make that decision right now. It can wait. For me, one of the things I implemented that I thought was really important is pushing things that can be pushed to a weekly meeting. Instead of random requests throughout the day, it’s, hey, is that something that needs to be answered right now or can we talk about it at the weekly meeting? Okay. Let’s push it to the weekly meeting so that there is a time and place, so that we can do deep work and we can do our work that we need to during the day. And then once the meeting happens, we make our decisions, and then we move on.
Pratik Shah (35:30):
How do you manage things like that? Because as a firm owner with that many people, 54 plus people, you must have people walk into your office every day. Hey Reza, I need a decision on this. I need a signature. I need this. I need that. How do you deal with that?
Reza Torkzadeh (35:44):
Very difficult. But I’ve tried to remove myself from the day to day decision making, because I’m not making the best decisions that way either. When I first started the practice and as the team was growing, I felt this, and this is not reality, I had created this in my mind, that if someone comes to me with a problem, that I should immediately have the solution. I should immediately have the answer. And if I don’t, that makes me a weak leader. That was my mindset. But now I’ve truly removed myself. So we have leadership meetings once a week, where the department heads and I will meet once a week on critical issues. Our litigation department meets once a week. All our lawyers meet together to make decisions on that.
Reza Torkzadeh (36:33):
And then our mid-level management folks meet almost daily with their teams. I think as a leader, you just need to realize where you are the weakest or where you are weak. And for me it was that. Is the need for me to feel like I have to have a solution for everyone’s problems right then and there. And so I removed myself from that. We’ve got incredible staff, I think the best staff around. Our mid-level management, our managing attorney is an absolute, incredible rockstar. We have a great director of operations who without we wouldn’t be where we are. My own brother who is an attorney and my law partner who I can’t imagine having a better partner. And our pre-litigation manager.
Reza Torkzadeh (37:17):
Having critical core mid-level management who’s there to either make those decisions or bring them so that we as a team can make a decision over time has made all the difference in the world. And it just comes down to, I think, as a leader of an organization recognizing where your weaknesses are.
Pratik Shah (37:39):
I think that’s super important. One of the things I took away from that too, is you’ve created this corporate structure within your firm of saying here’s how it goes, and here’s who makes the relevant decisions. And here is who is in charge for that particular section. I think the hesitation for a lot of lawyers when they’re starting to build their practice is they say, hey, I’m too small to have anything like that. Or that’s not the firm I want. I want to build a big firm without having those kinds of systems in place. What I’ve come to understand, is there is a reason why every corporation in the world has these systems in place, is because you need them in place to be able to scale and move the business forward efficiently. What’s your position on that?
Reza Torkzadeh (38:24):
No, I agree, Pratik. Look, for me, I have a limit amount of capacity in my brain a day. It must be my ADD, or I don’t know what it is. But for me, I think the key to at least my personal success has been delegating, and delegating to the people that I trust. When I first started hiring people, it was a scary thing and I didn’t want to trust them and I didn’t want to give up power, whatever it was. I realized through delegation, it freed up my time, freed up my mental energy to focus on things that actually made a greater impact on the organization. And the more I delegated to the people that I trusted, the more I realized they’re actually better. They did a better job than I would’ve. They were more thoughtful about it than I would’ve been.
Reza Torkzadeh (39:19):
And the more I delegated, the better it became and the better my quality of life became and the better the organization became. I’m not the day-to-day guy. Policies, procedures, processes, I’m not that guy. I’m better at other things, at the big picture and the direction and the culture and what I want the firm to represent. I think people are wired that way. There’s great people who are interested in the day-to-day processes and procedures and policies, and let those people who truly enjoy that, take care of it for you. But look, you got to trust them also. I’m not saying delegate to people and just roll the dice and see what happens. You got to do it with care and thoughtfulness.
Reza Torkzadeh (40:07):
And ultimately if you’re putting people in key positions, you only do so if you trust them with key delegation of things that you’re doing right now, otherwise they shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Pratik Shah (40:20):
Right. Right. You started your practice in 2012, we’re now in 2022. You’re almost coming up on your 10 year anniversary. It’s June 2022. And so you’ve got 10 years. At some point along the way, was it a year point, was it a number of cases point, was it a revenue point, when did you feel like, okay, now it’s time for me to get somebody, like a COO or somebody that can handle instituting these systems, I know I’m not good at it and I know it’s important for the business and for the practice at this point, where and when did that happen?
Reza Torkzadeh (40:56):
I think it was a combination of number of cases and revenue. I think we hit a certain revenue number where it was significant enough for me to say, look, let’s do this a different way. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, what’s going to happen to everybody that’s relying on me? And then also, where do we want to go? Because you have to decide what type of lifestyle you want to have. I’ve got two little girls and I want to spend every minute of every day with them as much as possible. And so I wanted that time to be able to do drop off, to be able to do mystery reader in their classes and to be able to spend the weekends with them. And so the firm got to a point where it’s like, all right, we’re at, 40 ish people. They’ve all got families, we’re hitting serious numbers in terms of revenue. And we’ve got an extra, I think it was a thousand cases, which was no joke.
Reza Torkzadeh (42:08):
That’s when I just decided, it wasn’t just me deciding, it was, look, I need this help. This is where we need help. This is how we should divide it up. Because not one person can do all these things and manage all these departments. And then do it in a way that’s going to be meaningful and then ultimately continue to scale and grow. That was probably right around the time where all this stuff happened that we talked about earlier, with the mass Exodus. It was right after that, where I knew we were going to do it different with the staff and I just knew that the firm just had to be a different firm. It wasn’t the same firm anymore.
Pratik Shah (42:49):
And it was just one of those moments for you it seems like, where it was, look, if it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work. But if I’m going to do this, it’s going to be this way. Is that fair to say?
Reza Torkzadeh (42:58):
Yeah, it is. It is. The analogy maybe would be you’re building a house and you almost got the roof on and you realize the foundation is screwed up, and so we tore the whole thing down and took the foundation out and started all over again.
Pratik Shah (43:13):
That’s crazy. I love hearing people’s journeys, especially from when they come from such humble beginnings. Right? I want to ask again, I want to go back to obviously living, how did those phone calls go? If you were calling to say, hey, I need $5,000 or whatever it was to move this forward, that’s not an easy call to make.
Reza Torkzadeh (43:38):
You swallow your pride, and not easy, not easy. I felt every emotion you can imagine going through embarrassment, failure. Do I even know what I’m doing? I knew-
Pratik Shah (43:57):
How do they know they’re going to get their money back?
Reza Torkzadeh (43:59):
Yeah. It was a lot of those emotions and feelings. Every time I came back to it, I believed in what I was doing. And truly I just felt like I was doing it with a purpose. But yeah, you’re right, man. Every emotion you can imagine and asking to borrow money is not an easy thing.
Pratik Shah (44:19):
Especially not as a grown adult lawyer. It’s one thing if you’re in your early 20s and you’re like, hey dad, I need a couple hundred dollars for something. That’s different. But it’s one thing when you’re graduated from law school, a lawyer, had a job, married and now you’re like, hey, look, I know, I’ve made that call. I think you have to be able to rely on your support system, whatever that may be, whether it’s just your spouse or your family or your friends or whatever it may be, you have to be okay asking for help.
Reza Torkzadeh (44:53):
Absolutely. Absolutely. I think, personally I had maybe the greatest support system anybody could find, between my wife, my parents and my close-knit friends and brother, for sure. I think the one thing that I was missing really early on was someone who was in my shoes and who I could go to and talk about, look, what were the mistakes that you made? I want to be where you are now, how do I get there? What were some of those mistakes? So I can avoid making them. Because I made a tremendous amount of mistakes, a lot of expensive mistakes, a lot of just stupid mistakes that could have been avoided, should have been avoided, but you just have blinders on, when you’re in the thick of it you’ve got blinders on.
Reza Torkzadeh (45:40):
And part of the reason of writing that book was to share some of these mistakes for the younger generation of attorneys who are coming up, so that you don’t need to repeat those same mistakes. There’s other challenges that we as lawyers are facing today that you can focus on and avoid making some of the stupid ones that I made. It’s funny because in writing the book, I made myself very vulnerable in the things and the stories that I was sharing. When I got done reading it, I read the final manuscript and it came back and I was like, I don’t even want to put it out. There was this insecurity of really sharing these vulnerabilities publicly and what that’s going to mean and what is the response going to be? What does that mean to me?
Reza Torkzadeh (46:33):
I’ll tell you, sharing those mistakes, being able to say, look, I made these mistakes and I want to share them with you so that you don’t have to make them, it’s a real gratifying feeling to be able to do that. And to be able to share that with my colleagues and my friends who now we do share not only war stories, but we’re now sharing, hey, this is how we’re doing this in our organization, how are you doing it in yours? That collaborative nature, I think when I first started the practice, not a lot of that was there. And I think the opportunities for that exist today.
Pratik Shah (47:14):
It’s huge. We’re coming to time here, but I think an important point that was made is, we’re talking about preventing avoidable mistakes. And you can get that from reading. You can get that from talking to people, finding the mentor, finding a group that you can rely on, all of those places can help you avoid avoidable mistakes, but there’s going to be unavoidable mistakes that are going to happen. What I don’t want to happen is to discourage anybody that wants to move forward, I want them to do it. I want to encourage those that want to do it.
Pratik Shah (47:49):
But I think what everybody needs to realize is, when you do it, you’re going to make these mistakes and that’s okay. You’re not a failure if you make a mistake, it’s not time to shut it down and go home if you make a mistake. There’s not a single person that has built a practice that hasn’t made of half a dozen, two dozen mistakes, and they continue to make them, but you just push forward. What do you say to that?
Reza Torkzadeh (48:16):
You’re so right. Don’t assume that your competitor down the street has it all figured out.
Pratik Shah (48:22):
Exactly. That’s a big mistake people make.
Reza Torkzadeh (48:24):
Huge, huge. And they think so. And then not to get too philosophical, but there are also things that you can’t control, that are just going to happen. Right? The only thing you can do is control how you’re responding to things and whether or not you need to respond to them. And the thing that I’ve learned is, oftentimes you don’t need to respond to everything, you just let it go. But mistakes will happen. They’ll be out of your control and you can’t do anything about them. I don’t know, maybe some of them are in your control. They’re going to happen. The key thing is you learn from those mistakes and you move on. And if you’ve got the resiliency, and I keep talking about this, but it’s the passion and the purpose in what you are doing, then you’ll get through those really difficult times.
Pratik Shah (49:12):
Agree. As we get to the end, for somebody that’s in those first, early stages, those first few years that may be really tough and they’re struggling, what’s something you want to tell them?
Reza Torkzadeh (49:27):
Well, if you truly love what you’re doing, stay the course. Stay the course, believe in what you’re doing. Go out and meet people who’ve been in your shoes, meet mentors. And it’s easy to say mentor. Right? And I think that’s another word that’s been maybe overused, but not just mentors, but people that want you to win and will help you win. Because there are a lot of people like that out there. A lot of plaintiff lawyers like that out there who will not just be there for you for feedback or texting or calls, but who will actually do the work to help you win. Find those people. Those are the true invaluable people that I think there’s no amount of money that you can put on something like that.
Reza Torkzadeh (50:17):
And so just stay the course. You love what you’re doing. You’re dedicated to it. You’re dedicated to your clients in the profession, times are supposed to be tough at the beginning. And that’s just how it is. Those who persevere and last, then ultimately it gets easier.
Pratik Shah (50:35):
That’s awesome. Awesome. We’re going to end on that, because that was so good. I loved it. Thank you everybody for listening or watching. We’ll see you on the next episode of Bootstrapped Solo. And just remember, just because guys like Reza make it look easy and effortless doesn’t mean that it is. Thank you all.