The Skirmish Chest

Episode 10: The Skirmish Chest

Sherif El Dabe worked at two large firms, and was so disenchanted by the experience, he decided to leave it all behind to build a solo practice. Now, almost 20 years later, El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers is stronger than ever and Sherif and his team couldn’t be more content with their new work/life balance. Hear his story on the latest episode of The Bootstrapped Solo.

In This Episode
Transcript

Pratik Shah (00:07):
Welcome everybody to another episode of Bootstrap Solo. I am Pratik Shah, your host, and today we’re 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 Sherif El Dabe. He runs El Dabe Ritter, a 15 person practice that focuses on personal injury. He started his practice back in 2003 and has been growing strong ever since. Sherif, welcome to the show.

Sherif El Dabe (00:38):
Thank you for having me, Pratik.

Pratik Shah (00:40):
No, thanks for coming on. I know you’re busy running a big practice, doing well, and so I appreciate you carving out some time for me. You started back in 2003, which is 19 years ago, and some of the other guests we’ve had on the show haven’t been running a practice that long. I would say maybe the average would be eight to 10 years. 19 years is quite a bit of time. What keeps you going?

Sherif El Dabe (01:07):
Well, it gets better and better every year actually. The more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to learn and the best part of being a personal injury lawyer, in my estimation, is meeting clients and hearing what their worries and their needs are and advising them. I like to meet people. I like meeting people more than writing motions or arguing in court, and so that’s what keeps me going.

Pratik Shah (01:32):
That’s awesome. Back in 2003, when you started, was it just you? How did you start? Tell me about those early days.

Sherif El Dabe (01:39):
Sure. It’s actually appropriate to discuss because of the title of your podcast, Bootstrapped. I started in 2003, at 27 years old. I had worked for two other firms previously, a plaintiff’s firm and a defense firm and I was really disenchanted with what I was doing. The experiences were very poor in terms of clients or I should say client, because when you’re an employee, you have one client, which is your boss, your superior. That’s the only person you can’t let down, versus my situation and my firm now where I have hundreds. I like that better, but I started because I was unhappy at those other firms and I started at 27 and I had a little office in Orange County and my rent was $950 a month. It was three rooms and I rented one of the rooms out for $750 a month, so suddenly my rent was $200 a month.

Pratik Shah (02:39):
Smart.

Sherif El Dabe (02:41):
Yeah, it was. When I did that, I was like, wait a minute, I might be crafty here. I might have the solution, I might be able to figure things out. My rent was 200 bucks a month for my office and I lived on a very shoestring budget. I rented a room in an apartment for $700 a month, so my expenses were very low, which was necessary because back then there was less information than there is now and I didn’t know what I was doing. I did not even know if I wanted to continue in personal injury. I knew I liked it, but I didn’t see the path, yet. Again, consistent with my value of trying to help people or meet people, I started doing criminal defense. Defending drunk drivers, other misdemeanor crimes, and within two years I got six trials under my belt. I met a lot of people and that money from the criminal defense retainers started to build up and become my war chest for eventually getting back into personal injury. I use the word war chest very loosely, because it wasn’t a lot of money.

Pratik Shah (03:50):
It more like a battle chest, like a skirmish chest.

Sherif El Dabe (03:55):
A pocket full of change. I had a pocket full of change for legal attack and then I get your basic fender bender, rear ender cases, and I was solo. It was just me, doing everything and it was a good experience and I would litigate. Then, 19 years later, here I am now, I have a partner, Jonathan Ritter, amazing trial lawyer, and his amazing associate attorneys. We all compliment each other. I am not the smartest guy in the room at my firm. I am not the hardest working guy in the room at my firm. I’m sure I contribute somehow, but…

Pratik Shah (04:33):
No, I’m sure you do a lot. I don’t think anyone’s questioning your work ethic, Sherif, but I want to go back to when you were doing these criminal defense cases. You said that you did six trials in two years as a solo. I know what that’s like when you are a solo, that you’re doing everything. From answering the phone, sending out your own mail, cutting your own checks, doing everything, to stop your practice, to do a trial. Tell me about that process.

Sherif El Dabe (05:03):
Sure. I hired an assistant early on, maybe seven or eight months into my practice to answer the phone and all of that, but these misdemeanor criminal trials, they lasted five or six days. It was not a huge interruption and the benefits I got from doing the trial, cross examining police officers, cross examining and hiring criminologists was invaluable and gave me confidence, which kept me going. I didn’t really have to stop much and I was more interested in learning my craft than making money early on. Money should be the side product or the byproduct of your success. If it’s primarily your goal, you probably will still make it and achieve it, but I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it.

Pratik Shah (05:53):
So for you it was just, I’m early on, I’m young, I’m 27, 28, 29, as you’re building your practice, I’m just going to focus on becoming the best lawyer I can be. Is that accurate?

Sherif El Dabe (06:05):
Yeah. I was trying to be the best lawyer. I’m not going to say trial lawyer or litigator. I guess I was trying to be the best counselor I could be to the people that hired me, so that is lawyering. I was counseling them legally, but as you know, as we all know, being a great trial lawyer or litigator, there are so many skills, you almost can never do it. It’s an unreachable goal. You have to keep learning. I’m 19 years in now, having tried many cases and litigated. I’m still learning new things and it gets better and better.

Pratik Shah (06:37):
There’s an art and a science to all of it. There’s an art and a science to building your business and hiring and firing and counseling your employees. There’s an art and a science to being a business partner, managing that relationship. There’s an art and science to deciding what clients you’re going to sign and what you’re not. You said something that I thought was super important, which is that in the beginning you may not have seen the end goal, but you just focused on what was the next step. Is that right?

Sherif El Dabe (07:06):
Yeah, I never had a master plan. I’ve never been good with data or figuring out how many calls are coming in or what I’m spending here. I never was good at that. I was just trying to focus on the present and doing a good job then and there. I don’t know that it was something that I intended, but it was just my personality. As the business grows, you have to do a little bit more of the planning and the structuring and the projecting, but still with the amount of staff that I have and the employees, we’re not analyzing our data on where the business comes in and how much we’re spending and all of that.

Pratik Shah (07:53):
One of the things you mentioned before we jumped on the pod was that for you it’s been 19 years of slow and steady growth and you really take pride in that. I can tell that’s something that you take pride in. Tell me about that.

Sherif El Dabe (08:06):
Sure. There are a lot of firms out here and there’s a lot of competition and some firms grow really fast and they’re star shines really brightly and burns hotly, but I don’t see them lasting long. Some of them burn brightly and then burn out, and that’s the firm and some lawyers burn brightly and then burn out. Again, this was not by any design. I’m not foreseeing all of this ahead of time, but I was uncomfortable with the spotlight a little bit. I even get a little nervous coming onto podcast like this because I feel like everything I say is known already or should be known if you look into it and read some of the people that came before us, but it was, it’s been a very slow, steady growth. I’ve never went into debt trying to grow.

Sherif El Dabe (08:54):
I’ve never spent more money than I have as a firm. It was just like I made some money and then I spent it. Where I would spend it eventually, and this was a hard lesson to learn, was on talent and smart people and salaries and employees, because I learned a lot of lessons through these 19 years. I used to hire cheap people who may not have known much because I was worried about my monthly overhead expense and that ended up costing me more in other ways. Now, I have great people that I’m proud to work alongside, and the other place that I spend money and learned I needed to, was marketing. I never went too crazy on marketing, but it’s been slow and steady and it’s worked.

Pratik Shah (09:45):
I want to talk about those hard lessons you’ve run into with hiring the wrong people or having to deal with, I brought this employee in, now I got to get rid of them, because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. You said you hired your first legal assistant around seven to eight months, right?

Sherif El Dabe (10:04):
Correct.

Pratik Shah (10:05):
When did you hire the first person and then how soon after you hiring them, did you realize that was a mistake?

Sherif El Dabe (10:14):
Again, it was early on, maybe within two or three years of starting the firm. You hire somebody and you start to learn that they don’t care about their work product, they’re not interested in learning, they’re not independent, they’re just there for the paycheck. I still go through that.

Sherif El Dabe (10:30):
I’m looking for a new receptionist currently, and I had a young woman come in and I just gave her a chance. She was good enough. It’s very hard currently, by the way, to find people, I don’t know if you’re experiencing the same thing, but I think there’s a dearth of good employees out there and people who are looking for work. She lasted a week. She said the job was too hard, too many phone calls coming in or too much scanning or filing, but you just need to find people that are independently motivated and you could tell a lot by how they write their resumes, how they respond to your emails. I send out, just to save myself time. I send out an in-depth email interview prior to having an in-person interview and just from the email interview you could see what their writing skill is like, what their cadence is like when they speak to you via email, their professionalism, so that helps.

Pratik Shah (11:26):
Tell me more about your hiring process. It seems that you’re in a position where you’re proud of the people that work at your firm. You take pride in that the people you’ve hired are talented and self-motivated and want to achieve something. That is not common. That’s something that I think is definitely in the upper echelon of a lot of companies that are just trying to fill seats. Tell me about your hiring process on how you do that.

Sherif El Dabe (11:49):
Sure. We always have ads out there running on the big services, LinkedIn, Indeed and we get a lot of resumes and if I can find somebody passionate or intelligent, I’ll try to make space for them. I’m also cognizant of the fact that I don’t want to grow too big, because running a practice requires a lot of time where you’re not practicing law and you’re managing employees. Everything from vacations, family stuff, family stuff related to employees, not to mention my own family, that requires a lot, but I don’t want to manage all those people. You need different levels and you need managers to manage your managers and I think that gets you away from the practice of law and more into business, which is honorable. I have no issues with the business of law. Some of my friends are very good business lawyers or businessmen who happen to be personal injury lawyers, but that’s just not my particular path.

Pratik Shah (12:54):
Interesting. Now, early on, we talked about, right before the pod, that part of my thesis of why I started this thing and why I like having guests on here is that I think there’s a lot of misinformation, disinformation out on social media telling people that you go start your practice and really quickly you’re going to do very well and it’s going to be 10 times better than what you’re doing at your job, et cetera, et cetera. Do you have an opinion on that? What do you think?

Sherif El Dabe (13:19):
I think you have to have this honest conversation with yourself on what kind of person you are. One of my best friends started his own practice, did it for four years, and then retreated back into being an employee and was very happy as an employee. Starting your own practice, I don’t think it’s necessarily the path to happiness or success financially or personally. It’s just one of many potential routes. I did it because, like I said earlier, I needed to be involved in my client’s lives. I just needed to know what was going on and counsel them that way. I think it’s a beautiful option. I think as lawyers, we hold a very unique space in society. We are necessary, and I’m talking about plaintiff’s lawyers here. We are absolutely necessary to the function of this democracy and to make it healthy.

Sherif El Dabe (14:21):
For me it was a given. Also, I’m an immigrant. My parents immigrated here from Egypt in the early seventies, and consistent with the story of many immigrants, immigrants did not have the opportunity or the ability to go work in corporate America. They either didn’t have the right education or didn’t know the right people. My dad was an entrepreneur. My office now, my main office is here in downtown Los Angeles. I grew up six blocks from here. My dad was a jeweler at 6th Street and Hill Street in The Jewelry District, so I saw that entrepreneurship or starting my own firm was a possible path and knowing that as a kid gave me a little bit of the extra confidence to start my own firm.

Pratik Shah (15:10):
Yeah, I think that’s important. Sometimes if you feel like the doors aren’t open for me or I don’t see a path, for whatever reason it may be, maybe you’re a minority or maybe it’s some other reason you didn’t go to the right school, et cetera, et cetera, and you feel like, I just don’t see a path for me in the traditional sense that maybe this is the right answer, but it’s really important and key that it’s not the right answer for everybody, no matter where they come from or who they are and there’s no shame or there’s no negative negativity associated with anybody that says, that’s just not for me.

Pratik Shah (15:46):
Some of my closest friends have worked in the same place that they’ve worked at for the last 15 years, and they’re happier than they can be. I look at them and I say, I can’t believe anybody would ever suggest to you that you should go and start your own firm when I know how much you just enjoy the balance of life that you have that you just don’t get when you run your practice. I think we should address that issue too. As you started growing your practice from 2003 to 2022, the world has changed, right? In 19 years we’ve seen two different issues. You had the 2007/2008 recession, and then we got hit again in 2020 and you’ve persevered through all of that. How much have you had to learn to become a business person and learn how to navigate your business through these issues?

Sherif El Dabe (16:34):
The 2007/2008 financial crisis and the COVID 2020 thing were not scary for me. Again, I was never over extended. My practice was resilient and consistent with having a practice where you have hundreds of clients, if you lose 10 or 15 clients for whatever reason or lose 10 or 15 cases, you can fall back on all your other cases, so it’s been very, very comfortable for me. I have some friends who have big personal injury practices, we’re talking hundreds of employees. When COVID hit in March of 2020, it was catastrophic. They laid off 50% of their workforce. People weren’t driving on the streets, accidents weren’t happening. It’s probably a good thing, that’s the goal, but a fact of life is accidents are going to happen, people are going to get injured, human beings are going to be negligent, and what’s justice after that happens?

Sherif El Dabe (17:40):
A lot of my friends had a big problem during COVID. 2008/2007 financial crisis, I remember being five years into my practice and that’s when everybody would get these mortgages that you could put zero down and buy a big house. I remember being friends with some people and I told them I was a lawyer, but I was renting still, and they laughed at me. They said, what are you talking about? I’ve made people millions of dollars buying houses, but again, I didn’t buy a house at that time, although I could have and I played it safe. For better or for worse, I was conservative and it’s been working out.

Pratik Shah (18:19):
That seems to be a theme of your practice and a theme of your journey has been taking that conservative route and not falling prey to some of the dangerous paths and the traps that are laid out before somebody who’s starting a personal injury practice is, if you do X, you’re going to get rich quick, if you do Y, you’re going to get rich quick. I say this all the time to some of my younger cousins and family members and friends, is I say, I know a lot of people that have made a lot of money. I don’t know anybody who’s gotten rich quick. I know people that have gotten rich [inaudible 00:18:56] and done fine.

Sherif El Dabe (18:57):
Yeah, my dad told me it’s easy to make a lot of money, but it’s hard to keep making a lot of money. You can do it maybe once. Everybody gets lucky here and there, but to be consistent and really build a practice and have a steady income stream, that’s the challenge.

Pratik Shah (19:17):
And you say, in the beginning you couldn’t see this end path, but it seems like you operate on a longer timeline than a lot of people, and I appreciate that, because I say that to a lot of people is, you’re going to be in the business for 40 years, don’t try to win the game in three to five. Plan for 40 years of how you’re going to be resilient, assume things are going to happen that are going to hurt and you’re going to have to take steps back and then get back and move forward. It seems like from the beginning, you’ve had a solid head on your shoulders of, I’m going to be doing this a long time. It’s okay if I get there slower than others. I’m not worried about what anybody else is doing. Where does that come from for you?

Sherif El Dabe (20:01):
I read a ton. I read a lot of self-help books. I try to maintain a small ego. I’m trying to increase my reliance on my super ego or my conscience. I’m trying to do right by my clients and by myself and you mentioned the game. The real game, this law practice or being a lawyer, whether you’re an employee or you have your own firm, that’s just one part of the game. The real game is life. You want to be happy and fulfilled, accomplished, satisfied with yourself. If you’re doing it right, you want to become a master of your craft and you want to get better at what you’re doing. If you’re doing it right, you want the respect of some of your peers.

Sherif El Dabe (20:49):
That’s the game, and I love this quote that happiness is not a destination, it’s a state of mind. If it’s a state of mind, how do you exist in happiness? How do you exist in satisfaction? Because it’s available right now, but how do you get there? Maybe get there is the wrong choice of words, because that implies destination, but how do you be happy? Now? I don’t think you have to. I think if you overextend yourself or let’s talk about social media. You look at it and you start to feel bad about yourself. Everyone’s posting only the successes or the good things happening and the healthy thing to do is not compare yourself to anybody. There will always be somebody that’s a better lawyer, that’s better looking, that has more money, that has everything better than you, and you just have to compare yourself against yourself.

Pratik Shah (21:41):
Yeah, one of my favorite things that I’ve ever heard is, comparison is the thief of joy, and it really is. If you sit there and you say, that person has that and I want to get there, and once I get that, I’ll be happy. That’s just not how it works. It works with you being content and it works with you being considerate to yourself and your own shortcomings. Everybody has shortcomings and being okay with that. In building your practice, in turning the focus back to those early days of 2003 and building as you grew, and I totally understand and respect that you grew slow and steady. You were careful, you made your moves consciously, but even in doing that, were there ever any days where you were like, that was a mistake, I shouldn’t have done that. Let me come back and readjust and reassess?

Sherif El Dabe (22:31):
Sure, there were mistakes, but they were mistakes with small m’s. It was like a bad marketing thing. I get ripped off by an online marketer who says, I’m going to do some search engine marketing for you, or I get ripped off. When I started marketing, online marketing wasn’t a big deal. I was on the back of the yellow pages and I would pay X amount of dollars and then later discover they never distributed the books like they said they were going to. These are small mistakes. They’re nothing really big.

Pratik Shah (23:04):
But they’re going to happen and that’s the point I want to get across, is that nobody builds a practice without these mistakes. They happen to everybody.

Sherif El Dabe (23:14):
Yeah, I can’t say there was anything catastrophic. There’s never been that. I think one of the good things about social media is I did connect with a lot of my childhood friends from Catholic school when I was in first grade and in an effort to learn a little bit about myself, I’d ask them, what’s your memory of me? And they always said, you’ve always been a happy go lucky guy. I was like, that’s good to know, to hear that. Maybe that’s how everyone perceives me. Of course, we all have our inner dialogues and I could be anxious or neurotic, but it’s not clinical. I still worry that something’s going to happen in the future. And the one thing that happened, which did cause a little bit of a perspective change for me was my dad died about 10 months ago.

Pratik Shah (24:10):
I’m sorry.

Sherif El Dabe (24:11):
Thank you. I was very close to him. He was a very stoic guy. He supported me and didn’t judge me, and that was a big loss. I did rethink a little bit about how much I work. I’m married, I have three fantastic sons and a fantastic wife, but I did step back a little bit and think more about what my purpose is and my goal in life or professionally was to be happy and healthy and that’s a good professional goal, but I need that for the family too.

Pratik Shah (24:50):
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s important. How have you done that? As you were building your practice, that takes a commitment. It’s different, like you said, when you work somewhere, you have one client to keep happy, which is your boss and when you’re building a practice, you have to get more and more clients every day, otherwise you’re not growing and you’re not building. Maybe it’s not every day, but over time you have to keep growing at the end of the year and you have to hire more people and you have to take care of a lot of people. How do you balance all of that in the struggle of growth and growing the right way, with also growing your family the right way?

Sherif El Dabe (25:27):
Well, there’s only so many hours in the day. I think that if you want to be healthy and happy, you have to step back from the practice. You can’t let it dominate you. That’s ego in your professional life. You can have ego in your personal life too. You fight with your spouse. The ego can be very destructive, and so I just told myself, I’m going to either work less or make less money or suffer those consequences, if you can even call them consequences, maybe they’re benefits.

Sherif El Dabe (25:57):
Maybe working less is the right attitude and travel more or my kid has a Little League game on Thursday at 4:00 PM, you got to go to that. Mind you, I came from, again, a family where I never played Little League. We didn’t even know what that was. I played some sports in high school. I never saw my parents at one event and I don’t know whether it was good or bad. I developed some independence that way, but it was fine. As I spend more time with the family now, especially my children and at their sports events, I see great benefits, and so that’s the goal.

Pratik Shah (26:37):
I think the goal for a lot of people should be, what you’ve accomplished, is that your business is going to feed your life and not the other way around.

Sherif El Dabe (26:47):
Yeah. One of the questions you asked me yesterday was when did I realize I had made it? And I bristled at that question because I don’t feel like I made it or that’s even a good place or head space to be in. I want to always be working and learning.

Pratik Shah (27:07):
I wondered that, because I think that what I intended by that question is, when was the moment when you felt that this was sustainable and you were going to keep going? It sounds like maybe you felt that way from the beginning, but I think that’s different for everybody, is that when you felt like, I have a steady stream of clients, I’ve got some staff, I’ve got, for lack of a better term, systems in place or a machine here, that I see where this is going and felt like this is not just me figuring it out tomorrow, there’s now a plan here.

Sherif El Dabe (27:41):
I don’t have a great answer for you. When did I feel it was sustainable? I’m still sustaining. It won’t sustain without me. I got a great partner and great people working here and we’re all sustaining together. When you say it was sustainable, I know I’m giving you a hard time a little bit about this question, but I’m philosophizing a little bit. When did I feel it was sustainable? What is it? It is just us, cooperating with one another.

Sherif El Dabe (28:10):
I was thinking about our last President, Trump, and how terrible he was and how fragile our government, our system of government is, because you realize that it, our country, is really just a bunch of people trying to do the right thing and when the wrong people get in power and a bunch of people start doing the wrong thing, it can collapse pretty quickly. Same with a firm or same with the case. If you don’t do it right by the case, on a decision by decision basis, the case, the firm can collapse pretty quickly. It’s not sustainable until everybody agrees together. We’re all going to work on this together and do well together and help each other.

Pratik Shah (29:00):
How do you continue to inspire your staff to do that? Because I think it’s easy for sometimes people to lose focus. Not just business owners, business owners lose focus all the time, but employees can lose that fire. Is that just you got to hire the right people. Is there something you do within your practice that keeps them motivated and keeps them on the right path?

Sherif El Dabe (29:25):
Great question. It’s actually a timely question too. I am now instituting where I’m going to go to lunch with every single person that works here once a quarter or something like that, just to get to know them again, because as I’ve gotten busier, I’ve been paying a little less attention to everybody and I assume everybody’s doing fine and doesn’t have any questions and so we’ve been doing that. Also, COVID was a blessing in disguise, because people started working remotely and we instituted all firm Monday Zoom meetings. Every Monday at 3:00 PM the entire firm gets on a Zoom and we’ll talk about anything. What somebody did this weekend. What book somebody read, cases that came in, new developments in the law. These are only 15 or 20 minute meetings, but it’s good to see everybody’s face and everybody hears about what’s going on.

Sherif El Dabe (30:21):
That’s one of the meetings. We have a lot of virtual meetings and they’re very productive. We did not do those before COVID. I want people to have pride in their job and I want them to feel like they’re making a difference in particular clients’ lives. We just settled the case last week for a very large number, and I’m going to bonus the entire staff. This is a case that 99% of lawyers don’t settle a case this big and the people in the firm know about it, but because of the defendant, they insist on strict confidentiality, but everybody needs to know that they had had a hand in that case. Even if they didn’t touch the file, they touched another file that gave me and my partner the time to work on this file, so they helped.

Pratik Shah (31:11):
Instituting that team environment, it’s big. Were you always like that as you hired people or is that a skill you learned as you started hiring more and more people?

Sherif El Dabe (31:22):
It was a skill I learned. I used to have a little bit more of a temper. Actually I hired somebody recently and she said, you have a reputation. I said, oh yeah, what’s that? That you’re very spicy and you like to have fun. I said, Okay, I never heard that. I see the having fun part, but the spicy, what’s that mean? She said, you got a temper. I used to have a little bit more of a temper and one of my employees, she’s still with me, she’s been with me for eight years. She said, if you’re going to blow up at somebody, even if you’re in the right and it’s public, then the apology has to be public too. It’s something I never thought of, because I would apologize later in person and say, maybe I was out of line, but I was really stressed and this was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened, but it’s just things like that. Character building through relationships with other people. She told me that and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I said, of course she’s correct.

Pratik Shah (32:23):
What are some of the most? Go ahead, sorry.

Sherif El Dabe (32:26):
I think it’s all stuff that I learned through people and through relationships.

Pratik Shah (32:30):
What would you say are some of the most important skills you’ve learned as a business owner and as a leader over the last 19 years? I know there’s a lot, but are there any that stick out to you?

Sherif El Dabe (32:42):
The value of marketing, You could be the best lawyer in the world, but if you don’t have a client, you’re not a lawyer, you’re not lawyering. Marketing is essential and it’s a necessary evil, if you think it’s evil, but there are many, many clients out there and they’re looking for good lawyers and you got to go out there and get them. I used to do online marketing, I still do. I try to market to other lawyers by being a good litigator, and marketing is something you have to do. I did not know that right off the bat. I just thought the clients would come in somehow. Invest in your people. That’s something else I learned and don’t overspend. Like I said earlier, people burn brightly for a while. They overspend and then their firm goes bust.

Pratik Shah (33:42):
You mentioned earlier that you do a lot of reading. You’ve read a lot of self-help books that have helped you as a person, as a business owner. What are some of the ones that stand out to you?

Sherif El Dabe (33:54):
One I wanted to mention was if this podcast is being watched by somebody who’s starting or thinking about starting in their own firm, an early book I read was by Jay Foonberg, How to start and build a law practice. That was really good. One of his early lessons is pay yourself first, otherwise, why are you working? It’s not like you should be going into debt and starting your own firm and not making any money. You will fail that way. Remember why you’re working. It’s to get paid. That was a great book I read 20 years ago.

Sherif El Dabe (34:29):
I read a lot of nonfiction. I just read a great book, it’s called America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges. Chris Hedges is a former New York Times reporter and graduate of Harvard Divinity School and he writes about the decline of American culture and the rise of corporate power in America, which contributes to the decline of culture. It doesn’t sound like it’s really related to what we do, but it is, because the corporate, we fight insurance companies. You can’t get more corporate than that. They’re the richest, most powerful companies in this country and when they have the power to lobby congress, state and federal, and when they change the laws, they’re not changing them to help the average Joe. They’re changing them to make more money for their shareholders and that’s something we deal with.

Pratik Shah (35:30):
Yeah, interesting. Couple of questions before we wrap up, because we’re getting on time, Sheriff. If you could go back to 2003, 2004, 2005, and you could talk to the young Sherif, what would you tell him?

Sherif El Dabe (35:45):
Oh man.

Pratik Shah (35:46):
Younger, I should say. Not the young one. The younger one.

Sherif El Dabe (35:50):
I would tell them it’s going to be all right. Don’t stress out, that this decision you’re making to start your own practice is just one of many important decisions in your life and you’re already blessed. If you’re watching this podcast and you’re thinking about starting your own firm, you’re in a good spot already, whether or not you do that. Being a lawyer is one of the most honorable professions there is. Even if you’re on the other side, it’s still an honorable profession. It’s only through both sides, advocacy that justice is going to occur. I would just say have gratitude for where you are and everything’s going to be all right.

Pratik Shah (36:33):
That’s great. That’s great. What is your favorite part of being a lawyer?

Sherif El Dabe (36:39):
Lately, I’m 45 now, but lately I’m enjoying court a lot more. When I used to try cases before, it was just this panic. There are so many i’s to dot and t’s to cross and so many things to worry about. Not to mention, trials are expensive. You cannot try a basic personal injury case for under 50,000 nowadays. $50,000 in costs, and God forbid you lose that case, you’ve lost $50,000. That’s one year’s tuition, so the more I learn, the more I enjoy.

Sherif El Dabe (37:18):
I used to try poor quality cases. You got a bad offer in a case, I got to try the case. No, you don’t. You’re not going to be doing your client or yourself any favors and the good cases I used to settle sometimes, because it’s like we got a great offer, but maybe that’s the case you should go to trial on. What are you doing when you’re going to trial? Maybe you’ll do better for the client, Maybe you’ll do better for yourself. You’ll feel better. You’ll form a good relationship with the defense attorney. You’ll form a good relationship with the judge. You will feel better about yourself and then that’ll bleed into other cases. You will get a good public result and then that’ll bring you more business. So much good happens when you go into trial.

Pratik Shah (38:05):
I agree with everything you’re saying. Before we wrap up here, and I give my little closing spiel, any parting words for the audience? Like you mentioned several times, a lot of the audience is people that are just starting a business, just starting a law firm or thinking about starting a law firm, and a lot of them are in those dark days at the beginning where they’re struggling to make ends meet, they’re not taking a salary, they’re trying to figure out how they can make their business sustainable, before you yell at me about using it again, but any party words for them?

Sherif El Dabe (38:38):
I would say that, I’ll say it this way. Execution is everything. We all have ideas, we all have pie in the sky ideas and hopes and dreams and I want to be this or I want to be that, but execution is everything. I think about you, Pratik, and I look at both this podcast, which is amazing, because of what you’re doing, and even your company, EsquireTek, which is amazing. I’m razzing you here, but I had both of those ideas before you. I had both of them and I did not start a podcast and I did not start a software company to help people with discovery, which is very time intensive. Who did? You did, and that’s because execution matters. I would say to everybody, you can have the idea of starting your own firm, but do you really want to? Are you really going to put in the time and the labor and the effort and the sweat equity. Ideas are worthless, execution is everything and you execute by working hard, showing up every day and doing the work.

Pratik Shah (39:50):
Thank you, Sherif, that’s very kind. I appreciate you. I appreciate your support. I want to thank everybody for listening or watching. We’ll see you on the next episode of Bootstrapped Solo. Just remember, just because guys like Sherif make it look easy and effortless, it doesn’t mean that it is. My one ask for the audience. We don’t run any ads or anything like that. We’re not trying to sell you anything here, is that if you just enjoyed the pod, please share it where you share stuff, whether it’s LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, et cetera, We can only grow if you let others know about it and we’d appreciate your help in doing that, so we can continue to have great guests like Sherif come on and tell us about their journey. Thank you all and see you next time.

Sherif El Dabe (40:26):
As my kids say, click like and subscribe below.

Pratik Shah (40:30):
Yeah, like and subscribe below. Thank you guys. Thank you Sherif.

 

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