Episode 16: It's Not About A Free Lunch!
In this episode of Bootstrapped Solo, host Pratik sits down with attorney Mike Valiente, who runs an 18-person firm out of Las Vegas. Mike shares his journey from law school to building a successful practice and the importance of mentorship and coaching in his growth. Whether you are just starting out in law or are looking to grow your practice, this episode offers valuable insights on finding mentorship and building strong relationships as a new, and growing, attorney.
Pratik Shah (00:00:04):
Welcome everybody to Bootstrapped 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 Mike Valiente from Valiente Mott Injury Lawyers. He runs an 18 person practice out of Las Vegas, Nevada that focuses on personal injury. He started his practice back in 2017 and has been growing strong ever since. Mike, welcome to the show.
Mike Valiente (00:00:33):
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Pratik Shah (00:00:35):
Mike, you and I have gotten to know each other over the last couple years, and you’re out in Vegas, and I didn’t realize that you started… I know you have a partner, Tim Mott, and we’re going to be recording with him in a couple of weeks as a part two, so I want to hear both stories, but I know you started your practice in 2017, and Tim joined later, is that right?
Mike Valiente (00:00:53):
That’s correct, yeah. I left in August of ’17, and Tim came with me about a few months later in March of ’18.
Pratik Shah (00:01:00):
Okay. So when did you graduate law school?
Mike Valiente (00:01:03):
Pratik Shah (00:01:05):
Got it. So 2016 you graduate, what’s the first thing you did? Did you find a job somewhere? What did you do right out of school?
Mike Valiente (00:01:12):
Yeah. So the origin story is, when I was 1L in law school, the law school puts on this thing called Dinner with a Rebel Lawyer. So it’s like an attorney in the community who already graduated, takes young law school students out, and you get to ask them whatever questions you want about being a lawyer. So the first one that I ever did was with my business partner, Tim. He was already a practicing attorney, and I was a law school student. So kept in contact with him throughout the year, and then once first year grades came out, I was number one in my class, and I sent him my resume. I said, hey, I know you guys aren’t hiring, but at the time he worked at the highest paying defense firm in town, and he ended up getting me the summer associate job summer of 2L year. So I worked all of 3L year as part-time law clerk there, and then once I passed the bar, I lasted nine whole months before I left.
Pratik Shah (00:01:56):
So when you say this was a defense firm, was it an insurance defense firm, corporate defense? What kind of firm was it?
Mike Valiente (00:02:01):
Yeah, it was high-end personal injury defense. So pretty much the big cases that the big players get, the PSBs, the Eglets, we are the ones defending it. So usually very catastrophic injuries. We’d parachute into trial a month before trial and kind of try these cases. So I got to cut my teeth on the big stuff. My first deposition I defended was against Rahul Ravipudi. I got my teeth kicked in. And then my first trial witness was against Rahul as well, and they got $160 million against me.
Pratik Shah (00:02:36):
What are you going to do? And you’re like, you know what? I want to be the one getting 160, not losing to.
Mike Valiente (00:02:41):
Yeah. No, that’s actually kind of how it happened, is I was slaving away during that trial. I hadn’t seen my family in 30 days, and it was just miserable. I just didn’t see myself living there doing that kind of life long-term. And as soon as they hit that verdict for $164 million or whatever it was, I pulled out the calculator, multiplied that by 0.4 and said, check please, and I’m out.
Pratik Shah (00:03:02):
Yeah. Yeah, I can understand that. Now, I remember talking to you about this, and law is actually a second career for you, right?
Mike Valiente (00:03:13):
Yeah, I started selling real estate when I was 19 years old. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and hustlers, so I just never really saw working for somebody else as being a long-term goal for me. So started selling real estate when I was 19, I made a lot of money really early, and then 2008 happened and I lost everything, had to move back in with my parents. It was bad. And so that was actually the best thing that ever happened to me, because it gave me the perspective to go back to school. I always wanted to be an attorney, I was just making too much money at 19 years old to go to school and leave that behind, but when the economy did it to me, then it was easy. I had nothing else to do.
Pratik Shah (00:03:52):
The nice thing about coming from a long line of entrepreneurs is that they know that those moments happen, that those ups and downs happen. It’s different if you come from my family, they’re not really business people, they come from working jobs, stable jobs, consistent paychecks. So when those ups and downs happens, that is like, that’s why you don’t do that, that’s why you go get a stable job. So how did your parents react to that when that happened?
Mike Valiente (00:04:17):
I mean, kind of understood the nature of the game kind of thing. And that was the one thing that just really upset me, that my success or failure in real estate had nothing to do with my business acumen, my skill, my ability to hustle and generate cases. It was outside of my control. And so that was the one thing that I said, never again will I let this happen to me where I’m going to be in a business that’s completely controlled by external forces. So I joke that I’ve made money and lost it all twice. First time was the economy in 2008 for real estate. After that happened, I slowly remade my bankroll by borrowing more and buying homes at the auction and fixing and flipping them, and that’s how I paid my way through law school. At the time, I was married and had a kid. And then so once that dried up, I used all that money to float my life for three years while I was in law school, so that was the second time I lost all my money. And then there’s not going to be a third time.
Pratik Shah (00:05:11):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So-
Mike Valiente (00:05:13):
There’s not going to be a third time.
Pratik Shah (00:05:15):
So when did you get married? Was it before the first time, 2008, or was that after 2008? How long have you been married?
Mike Valiente (00:05:21):
So I met my now wife when I lost everything and I was living back home with the moms. So you know she’s pot committed. She met me when I was broke as fuck. So I met her, I want to say it was… She’s going to kill me if I don’t know this date. What was it, 2000-
Pratik Shah (00:05:36):
Well, we could edit it. Don’t worry. We’ll edit this part.
Mike Valiente (00:05:39):
2009. I think I met her in 2009. And so by then, I had already lost everything. So it worked out. Yeah.
Pratik Shah (00:05:47):
So she was around the second time when you lost everything?
Mike Valiente (00:05:50):
Yeah. So the second time was just, I was going through law school, and I was flipping homes, and I made all this money flipping homes, but that kind of ended. Once the economy started picking up, the flipping homes kind of ended, and I wasn’t really making any money when I was in law school. I still had my real estate license, and I was doing a deal here and there, but pretty much the money that I had made up was paying a mortgage and diapers and formula and everything else until I got that job at Weinberg Wheeler.
Pratik Shah (00:06:10):
Okay. So it wasn’t like you lost it again somewhere? It was-
Mike Valiente (00:06:14):
No, no, no.
Pratik Shah (00:06:14):
… You were making an investment into law school and kind of putting yourself up for eventually your law career. Now, when you were going through law school and you had this relationship with Tim, did you always know you were going to start your practice, or was this something that, hey, you got your job at Weinberg Wheeler, and you just knew after being there that this job thing isn’t for you? Because it seems like you’ve got that entrepreneur mindset. There’s that famous book out there, You Can’t Teach Hungry. Clearly hungry, clearly willing to hustle. So did you know, hey, I’m going to go into law, I’m going to get my license, I’m going to start my firm, and this is what I’m going to do, or was that a decision that came later?
Mike Valiente (00:06:49):
No, I always knew this is what I was going to do. I was going to work for myself at some point. What I didn’t know was the time horizon. I thought I was going to survive Weinberg Wheeler four or five years for me to be a real lawyer, and that just didn’t happen. It was nine months before I’m like, I can’t do this. This isn’t for me. My attorney job was the first real job I had since I was a bank teller at Wells Fargo at the age of 18 years old. And so I’m in my thirties, and I can’t go back to people telling me what to do, when I can go to the bathroom, what I have to do on the weekends. It’s just, I can’t do it. It’s not going to happen.
Pratik Shah (00:07:23):
Yeah. Everybody’s different. Anybody that enjoys their job and has something they like, I don’t want to discourage anyone from that, but the reality is, once you have that little insidious thing in your head that you’ve gotten used to the freedom, it is hard to go back. It is really hard to go back.
Mike Valiente (00:07:42):
It always seems so backwards to me. So since I was 19, it was always eat what you kill. If I’m not hustling, if I’m not generating business, I’m not going to make any money. So to go from that to a job that’s a salary, the way I viewed it was, well, if you divide this by the hours, the more I work, the less I make. So the harder I’m working, the more hours I’m pumping in for the exact same salary, divide that by the number of hours I put in, it doesn’t make any sense for me to work hard. So I just have never been able to survive under that mentality. It’s not the harder I work, the more I’m going to make.
Pratik Shah (00:08:14):
Right. And that’s a classic… No, no, sorry to interrupt. That’s a classic hustler salesman kind of mentality that happens. If you’ve ever worked a sales job, and the reason why a lot of salespeople like sales jobs is because there’s commission. And so it’s what you said, I know that the harder I work, I can make more, because otherwise what’s being rewarded if everybody’s being paid the same salary is, whoever’s working the least is actually getting the most value out of their job. Now, they may not get that promotion and that long-term stuff, but year to year, day in, day out, it’s actually the employee working the least that’s extracting the most from that job for themselves versus if you’re paid, if you’re rewarded based on reward results, whether directly or indirectly, there is a motivation and an incentive to really put in those hours.
So I think a lot of old school firms haven’t really adapted to that yet, and it seems like maybe when you were there, the… And maybe they’ve changed since then, I don’t know, but it seems like that was kind of their mentality as well, was this is how we pay, we pay a salary, and that’s it, and you should just work hard because you’re supposed to, versus I’ve seen a lot of newer school firms that are adapting, are structuring their pay to say, you get this, you get a percentage of what you bring in, you get a percentage of what you settle, and there’s different structures to incentivize that. Have you done that in your firm where you’ve kind of realized, hey, this may be how people think, and maybe we need to structure some comp plans differently?
Mike Valiente (00:09:40):
Yeah. I think the easiest one that we did was with our intake team. So most bigger law firms, medium size law firms, they have teams that sign up these cases, and so they get their salary, their hourly wages, but what does it do for them to sign up these cases and be hungry about it? And we see it when we try to refer cases to other law firms. It’s like, oh yeah, I called them two weeks ago, and they never called me back, so I forgot all about it kind of thing. So for our intake team, we have this tiered structured bonus where they get paid more money every month based on the number of cases that they sign up. So the ones that we’re going to sign up every month, the 10 through 30 kind of thing that’s a smaller number, and as it increases up the chain, they get paid money for every single case that they sign up.
So they’re incentivized to get after it, follow up with these people. They’re incentivized to do that. And same thing with our attorneys. Just any cases they bring in, they’ll get a piece of the pie just for going out there and generating that business. One of the things that I didn’t like about the defense is that, the money you make is always tied to that chair. You see these old retired guys, divorced three times, if they’re not there billing those hours, there’s no mechanism for them to make any money, whereas on this side of the aisle, it’s my retirement could walk into the door tomorrow. And that’s the exciting part, is that you never know when you’re going to have that one monster case that you’re going to sail off into the sunset. And when you’re doing defense work, billing hours, that’s not even a possibility.
Pratik Shah (00:11:05):
Right. Right. Yeah. It’s high risk, high reward. And you come from that world in betting on yourself when you were 19, doing it again, leveraging debt to get to doing flipping houses. You’ve been through that. You’ve had that confidence that you know that you’re going to be able to deliver, so you just bet on yourself, and it’s worked out so far so many times. Now, when it comes to this intake teams, I want to explore this a little bit more, because I think this is unique. You’re rewarding them a little bit on closing cases, and same with your attorneys on bringing in, things like that. Obviously there’s going to be some kind of structure in place where you have to approve whether they’re signing. You don’t want them signing a case where a guy was driving drunk, drove into a ditch and got hurt, and wants to sue somebody because there’s nobody to sue. So how do you put in these safeguards to make sure they’re not just signing up cases that aren’t real cases?
Mike Valiente (00:11:52):
That’s a great question. So we have one that’s a Slack channel that we have with me and the attorneys who kind of oversee the pre-lit stuff and our intake team. So at this point, they’ve been doing this so long that they know where the strike zone is for the most part. Clear liability rear end, it’s kind of like they don’t really need to run it up the chain, but if it’s questionable, if it’s a slip and fall, if there’s treatment gaps, if it’s no PD, or… They know what the red flags are. They need to run it up the flag poll and be like, hey, you guys want this or not? And then we’ll either respond with, yep, let’s take a flyer on it. No, refer it out to this other firm. They’ll sign it up or whatever the case may be. But for the most part, after time, they kind of know what we want, what we don’t, what’s questionable and what’s a straight absolutely not.
Pratik Shah (00:12:31):
Got it. Okay. And then I assume that there’s going to be something in place like, hey, if they’re signing up too many cases that are not in our strike zone, there’s a carrot and a stick type of situation, or maybe it’s just counseling on them. How do you structure that if you’ve got some rogue intake person that’s just signing things up to hit their numbers?
Mike Valiente (00:12:52):
To be honest with you, it’s never really been an issue. So for the most part, they know what we’re signing up. And very seldom are we dropping cases. And the times that we are dropping cases, it’s because, hey, we took a flyer on it, but there’s no valid insurance, there’s no UIM, there’s nothing we can do, or there’s a couple other random ones where, hey, this client clearly didn’t tell us the truth. We just got the police report, and it turns out they’re at fault. But based on what they were told upfront, it wasn’t their issue. So I understand your concern, but to be honest with you, it hasn’t really been an issue we’ve had to address. I haven’t really seen a slew of trash cases that we’ve signed up just so they can take advantage of the system.
Pratik Shah (00:13:25):
And maybe that speaks to your ability in hiring, so let’s explore that a little bit. You’ve grown since 2017 from just you. It sounds like you started off just you, right?
Mike Valiente (00:13:37):
Yeah, it was just me in a free office, and then Tim joined me, and then we got a third person, and then a fourth person, and by the end of it, it was four of us in this free 10 by 10 office from a connection that I knew. It was a law firm that did plaintiff’s construction defect, and they were just trying to help us out. They’re like, “Oh yeah, you can have a free office.” We got office supplies and an office for a year-
Pratik Shah (00:13:59):
Mike Valiente (00:14:00):
… With four people crammed into this tiny office, sharing one phone, stepping over each other. It was a humble beginning. Let’s just put it that way. What was your question?
Pratik Shah (00:14:09):
Oh, your hiring process. So you grew from that to 18 people, and it sounds like you haven’t had a lot of personal issues. You’ve got people that believe in what you guys are doing, they understand what the firm is looking for, and they’re trying to do what’s best for the firm. Is there a certain hiring process in place that you know who you’re looking for and why you’re hiring certain people and not hiring others?
Mike Valiente (00:14:30):
Yeah. So at the beginning, it’s just like you don’t know how to hire, you’re afraid of payroll, you’re afraid of benefits because everything’s a lot of money, you don’t want to raise your overheads. At the beginning, it’s just kind of friends of friends word of mouth, and then as you grow, you realize the talent you really, really wanted and who you would’ve hired at the beginning. And that’s probably one of the hardest parts of running a law firm, is you might have these employees that haven’t really done anything wrong, but they’re just not your A players, you know what I mean? They’re maybe C players. They’re fine, they’re serviceable, but they’re not rockstars. So over time, as we grew, we got this really cool hiring system from Reza Torkzadeh, TorkLaw-
Pratik Shah (00:15:13):
We’ve had him on the pod. Yeah, we’ve had him on the pod, and he talked about it.
Mike Valiente (00:15:16):
So I can’t say this is our idea, we got it from him, but essentially the old way of hiring is either word of mouth or you post up a job posting, and you get 1500 applicants or whatever, some of them aren’t qualified. It’s just all the people hitting submit, submit, submit on Indeed. They don’t know anything about you. They don’t know anything about your job or the position. They’re just hitting submit to all these resumes. So then let’s say you find one in there that seems good on paper, you bring them in for an interview, they say all the right things in their interview, and then they end up being this toxic personality or not really that great of an employee. So how do you weed against that? So what we learned from Reza is, you have to treat it almost like a scavenger hunt.
So first you post up this job posting… And so Tim handles all this stuff, so if you want detailed explanations about how this stuff works, Tim’s the one who handles all of the hiring systems and all that stuff. But generally how it works is, you put up this job posting, and there’s detailed instructions of where they have to send their resume, and if they don’t follow those detailed instructions that are buried in the middle of the paragraph, then they’re not going to pay attention, they don’t pay attention to detail, and you don’t want them anyway. So if they don’t follow the instructions, they’re automatically disqualified. If they follow the instructions and the resume shows that they have the bare minimum skills to do what you need them to do, then they get ported over to this thing called Spark Hire, and you have them record a one minute video interview for these five or six questions.
And the questions can be anywhere from, if we’re looking for somebody who speaks Spanish, it’s tell me a joke in Spanish? It’ll be, take something complicated that you know how to do and explain it to me as if I have no idea what you’re talking about? Very simple. Is it better to be feared or liked? Some of these questions, what we’re not looking for is the right answer, we just want to see what they do with it. And then you’re looking for things that aren’t necessarily in the answer. Did they get dressed up? This is a real interview. Is there dirty clothes in the back of their room? Did they shoot this on an iPhone versus in an office setting or whatever the case may be? You’re looking for all these different things that the videos will tell you aside from just the answers themselves.
If they pass that part and they go to a phone interview, because they can record these video interviews unlimited times, you want to make sure that, are they this personable on the phone, or was it just the perfect recording one out of 1,000. Then move over to a phone interview. Once they pass the phone interview, then we bring them in for an in-person interview, and then in the in-person interview, it’s pretty much make sure we’re not getting catfished and offer them the job. That’s pretty much all it is. But once we put this system in place, anybody who’s willing to go through this many steps to work at your law firm is really going to be committed to both the brand, the ideas, our philosophies, our firm culture. And anybody that we’ve hired using this process has been an absolute home run rockstar. Wouldn’t change them for the world. It’s been really cool.
Pratik Shah (00:17:57):
How did you put that into place? Was that something you spearheaded, Tim spearheaded, you guys did it together? Did you have hire somebody from an outside? Because this seems like a lot of pieces to put together. Was this something that got built over time? Talk to me about putting that in place.
Mike Valiente (00:18:11):
So we got this from Tork. I believe Tork got it from a company called Crisp that does videos and does business coaching and stuff like that. We’ve used them for a little bit, but this came before ever we did the Crisp contract. Once Reza kind of gave us the playbook, we just kind of put it in place. All it took is getting some apps in place, Spark Hire as an app, Workable as an app. And then once you have those, you just kind of run them through the system. And the first time we did it, it probably took a while, because not a lot of people want to go through all those steps, but when you get the candidates that do, then they tend to be home runs. But the implementation wasn’t as hard as it sounds. For the most part, Tim spearheaded it, but it rolled out fairly quickly.
Pratik Shah (00:18:53):
Got it. Okay. And then you just started seeing a difference between the candidates that were actually showing up, and you can just see right away from a video… Like you said, you’re going to weed out probably 80% just on the first thing of not sending the resume, following the instructions. That’s probably the biggest culling, is right there, because the video-
Mike Valiente (00:19:12):
Correct. And not only… Yeah, sorry. 100%. So not only do they have to follow the instructions, but the video, not only does it tell you a lot about them as a person, and how seriously they’re taking this, but think about all the time that it’s saving. You get these five minute interviews. It takes me five minutes to review this candidate. And from these interviews it can be like, yeah, let’s move them up or don’t, based on their personality and what shines through the video. So it saves us as the business owners incredible time. Imagine the time it takes to interview everybody. And if you bring them in person, it’s not going to be five minutes, it’s going to be 45 minutes, because you have to weed through all these interview answers everybody knows what to say.
Pratik Shah (00:19:50):
And that’s exactly what I was going to say. The problem with the old school interviewing process is, the traditional 15 to 50 questions everybody asks, they’re all over the internet. There’s samples of what you should be saying. Recruiters teach people how to interview from right out of college or right out of high school. So that game has been figured out by the candidates. So it’s almost this cat and mouse between employers and candidates of trying to outsmart each other to figure out how employers can get the people they want, and candidates are just trying to get the job they want. And that’s not bad. They should be doing that. That’s their job as the candidate, is to find a job that they want to be at, but it’s the employer’s job in their role to find the people that are going to be the right fit for the firm.
So you go through this process, and I think there’s probably something psychologically that the candidate themselves that once they’ve gone through this and they’ve invested so much time, that they’re committed to this company. They feel like, hey, this company doesn’t just hire anybody, and so now that I got hired, I want to make sure I hold myself to that standard, or they may just be that kind of person because the kind of person that goes through all that is a certain type of person.
Mike Valiente (00:20:57):
It could be one or the other. I really can’t answer it, other than the product has been absolutely amazing. Once we’ve put this in place, the talent that we have now is just… Pretty much everybody on our team is an absolute rockstar. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody.
Pratik Shah (00:21:09):
Yeah, that’s amazing-
Mike Valiente (00:21:09):
It’s been really cool.
Pratik Shah (00:21:12):
Yeah. From 2018 with four people, because that’s when Tim started, to now 2023 going through a pandemic, to grow to 18 people, that’s quick. That’s quick. That’s a lot of growth in a short amount of time. And to think that… Because when I hear a hiring process like that, and I thought this when Reza said it too, was you just can’t be getting that many candidates that go through all that.
Mike Valiente (00:21:35):
Sometimes it can be hard. Sometimes we’ve done it before where we don’t get anybody qualified for months, or we’ll get these applicants that… The first questions is, tell us anything you know about our business? And if you’re not smart enough to just Google our law firm and read our about us page, I don’t know how to help you, you know what I mean? We’ve had interview answers that literally say, I don’t know anything about your law firm. Awesome. Thanks. Great. Hired. You nailed it. Nailed that. That’s what we were looking for the whole time-
Pratik Shah (00:22:03):
That’s what we were looking for-
Mike Valiente (00:22:03):
… Just honesty. What’s what we were looking for, honesty.
Pratik Shah (00:22:03):
What do you want me to say to that?
Mike Valiente (00:22:03):
Great job. Great job. I have no idea.
Pratik Shah (00:22:08):
[inaudible 00:22:08] That’s a good answer.
Mike Valiente (00:22:10):
But no, the growth has been crazy. We actually got the Inc. 5,000 for 2022, and I think we were number 704 out of the 5,000 businesses that applied, and number four in law firms across the country. I think over the four year growth, was 1800% growth or something insane. So it’s been crazy. We definitely were coached along the way by Tork, Vaziri, PSB. A lot of the big players out there really took us under their wing as young attorneys and just showed us these tips and tricks to not make the same mistakes they did, which has been completely invaluable.
Pratik Shah (00:22:46):
I want to talk a little bit about that. So with coaching and mentorship, everybody that we’ve had on the podcast that’s hit any type of success at all, a consistent theme has been finding those people that have built the company or have built their firm in the model that you want to go after, and really learning from them. So tell me how you even met these people, and how you even started building a relationship where they would coach you?
Mike Valiente (00:23:13):
Yeah. So the first one was Rahul Ravipudi at PSBR. Frankly, when we were litigating against each other, I was just a young associate. I’m surprised if he even knew who I was. I was CC’d on the emails, but I wasn’t chiming in there. It was a lot of hot sauce going back and forth. But the day I put in my notice, he was my first email for some reason. And I can’t even tell you why. I admired him. I thought he was amazing. I saw what he was doing in court, and I just wanted to be around this guy. So as soon as I put in notice, he was my first email. I just emailed him, was like, hey look, I just put in my notice. I’m starting my own firm. I don’t know if you even know who I am, but next time you’re in town, I’d love to buy you a drink just to shoot the shit, and he said, yeah.
He’s like, of course. He was in town for Cala, and then we met up for a drink, and then we just kind of shot the shit. And I said, “Hey, I assume since you guys hit this big verdict, you guys are coming to Vegas.” And he’s like, “Yeah.” And then I was like, “I also assume that you guys don’t take small cases.” And he’s like, “No, we don’t. Generally our threshold’s anything…” Whatever he said at the time, was $2 million or $1 million. I’m like, “Well hey, is there any chance I can make you a deal? I can introduce you to anybody that I know that’s going to have big cases to eventually send to you, and in exchange, just send me your trash, send me your garbage, anything less than $1 million.” And he’s like, “Yeah, no problem.”
So it was a great deal. And then after that, just kind of developed into a friendship where it wasn’t necessarily this quid pro quo. And I think that’s what people have a hard time with if they’re not naturally to do this. You and I have talked about it, that how you build business is by building friendships, and not with some kind of sleazy ulterior motive. I generally just want to be your friend. Let’s hang out. I’ll call you to just talk about random nonsense, not because I want anything from you, I just want to see what’s up with you. What’s going on? I thought about you. What’s going on? And so just doing that with people that you want to learn from, and just without it being some exchange of goods type relationship. You want to hang out with them just because you want to hang out, and you’ll learn what they’re doing and how they’re doing almost through osmosis, just by being around these people.
Pratik Shah (00:25:15):
No, I think that’s brilliant. And I completely agree with you. Everybody that I do business with, they’re my friends. I would hang out with them whether we do business or not. The same goes with you. We’re going to hang out regardless, because we truly enjoy each other’s company type of thing. And I think a couple of things that you pointed out that I want to emphasize for the three listeners that we have is, one, you took the affirmative action of reaching out to the person that you wanted to connect with. You cannot wait for these people to come to you. They are busy. They don’t know who you are. They don’t know what you want. They’re not going to reach out to you. So if you’ve identified somebody like you did with Rahul, if you’ve identified somebody through either a CLE event or conference or a trial or whatever that hey, that’s somebody I want to learn from, take that affirmative action of sending out an email.
People’s emails are on the state bar website. Most of them are on their law firm website. You can find the contact information for these people, LinkedIn, social media, et cetera. That is easily available these days. Taking that affirmative action to reach out and say, hey, I’d like to get to know you, I want to learn from you. And then the other thing that you did I thought was very smart is, you thought to yourself, how can I provide this person value? Obviously Rahul doesn’t need somebody to buy him his drink, he’s fine. So you thought to yourself, hey, this guy’s taking time out of his day, which is very valuable, there’s a ton of people that want to spend time with this person, how can I think and strategically of how can I provide this person some value so they don’t feel like I wasted their time?
And you’re right, it is not a quid pro quo, and that’s not the goal, that’s not what you’re thinking of, but because you can empathize and sympathize with what are his goals and help other people reach their goals, they’re going to help you reach your goals. And I’ve heard so many lawyers say that throughout the years, and a lot of people forget that, because they just think, what can I get out of this relationship, instead of what can I give and how can I actually do something for somebody else and not really just think about what I’m going to get? Is that something that has come naturally to you, or is that something you strategically thought of?
Mike Valiente (00:27:24):
No, I feel like it’s something that comes naturally to me. I feel like when people are driving to work, most people listen to sports radio or listen to music, whatever, your podcast maybe, I have no idea. What I do is, I call people. I don’t know why, it’s just always what I’ve done. I don’t like driving without having somebody on the phone. And it’s not for anything. I’ll just be like, hey, what’s going on? Thought of you. How’s your day? What’s going on? You want to grab lunch, or whatever the case may be. And so the business almost comes secondhand, as long as you focus on building these relationships because you want to. Look, if you were a mutant and you’re super awkward to talk to, I probably wouldn’t be calling you on my drive, because we’re not going to hang out, because I think you’re awkward.
But if you’re semi-normal, then I just want to hang out. I just want to hang out, I want to have drinks, I want to go do things, you know what I mean? And then the business comes almost secondary. And that’s always kind of come natural to me. It’s not something I strategically plan. Whenever I call people, I genuinely want to know about their day, or what’s going on, or what they’re up to, anything I can help with. I promise that whenever I’m calling people, there isn’t some kind of ulterior motive like, oh, let me do this three times, and I’ll hit them with a, send me a case, you know what I mean? That’s not it. It’s just like, if something happens, cool, if it doesn’t, it’s still cool. We’re still hanging out. It’d be cool.
Pratik Shah (00:28:32):
Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. And I think that is such a thing to emphasize, because too many people overthink things. And don’t overthink. Just call, talk to people, go and be willing to meet new people. I think it’s very easy for everybody to fall into their comfort zone, which is I’ve got my 10 friends from law school, and that’s who I hang out with, that’s who I have drinks with, that’s who I have lunch with, and when I go to networking events or dinners or whatever, that’s the only people I’m going to talk to. And it puts them in a box, and then they say, well, I went to all these networking events, and nothing came of it, didn’t help me at all. Well, that’s because you did not try to meet anybody new. Those 10 people know you. Go try to meet new friends. One of the things I always tell people is, if you just moved to the city and didn’t know anybody, how would you make friends? What would you do? If you’re a bicyclist-
Mike Valiente (00:29:20):
Are you asking?
Pratik Shah (00:29:20):
Mike Valiente (00:29:22):
Are you asking? Because I have no idea.
Pratik Shah (00:29:24):
Yeah, I’m asking you, what would you do?
Mike Valiente (00:29:26):
I have no idea-
Pratik Shah (00:29:27):
But that’s the thing, right?
Mike Valiente (00:29:28):
Yeah, that is the thing. Even just with how I met my business partner, Tim, it wasn’t just we went to dinner one time, and then partnership, success, end of story. After the dinner, he would’ve been just as happy to just forget all about me, you know what I mean? He did his job, and then went to dinner, did a good deed for the day, and then that was it. But no, I would email him every other month. I’d be like, hey, just saw this case, are you working on this? Whatever big awful thing happened in a casino, I assumed was his case, so I would just reach out to him, be like, hey, what’s going on? Are you working on this? Thought about you. That’s super cool. Let me know if you want to grab lunch. And even though he was the attorney and I was the poor law school student, I would reach out, invite him out to lunch.
And one of the things that I would always do at the time is, nobody’s going to let a law school student pay, so I would always go to the bathroom and give the server my credit card and just be like, “Make sure they don’t pay for this.” I don’t want anybody else thinking that I’m reaching out to them for a free lunch. So even though they’re the ones making the money, and I’m perceived as not having any, I don’t care. It’s not why I’m doing this. I’m not reaching out to you for free lunches. So it’s all about persistence and keeping up with them. At the time, I didn’t want anything from Tim. I didn’t even know I wanted to work at his law firm job. It wasn’t until after grades came out and I was looking for a job that I find out that his law firm was the highest paying one in town.
I didn’t know that at the beginning, you know what I mean? He could have just as easily worked at some rinky-dink fly-by-night low level defense firm. I didn’t know that, but I didn’t care. That’s not why I was doing it. And at the end it was just kind of like, “Hey. Grades came out. I know you guys aren’t hiring, but you guys want to talk at least?” And then it all worked out. It all worked out. But we were doing the dinner with the law school event ever since then, because so much good came of it for me that we would try to give back. And at the end of every Dinner with a Rebel Lawyer, I’d have this speech that I’d give these law school students.
I’m like, “Hey guys, you’re going to feel awkward reaching out to me because you think I’m this big, busy, awesome attorney, which I’m not. I promise you, I’d rather respond to your email, this law school student who wants to ask questions and find out, than respond to any other asshole that I have to deal wit. Just reach out.” And none of them ever do, man. And if they do, they do one time. They do one time, never to be heard from again. And it’s just like, am I not saying the right words? Because I feel like I’m giving you the playbook, and you just are unwilling or don’t know how this works. And they just won’t do it.
Pratik Shah (00:31:56):
They won’t do it. And a lot of attorneys don’t do it. Even though we’re all attorneys and we’re all the same, our licenses are all the same, but you tell them, here’s what you need to do, is send 20 emails to this person over the course of a year, and you will get a meeting with that person, and they’ll stop at two.
Mike Valiente (00:32:13):
They’ll stop at two. They’ll stop at two, or they’ll feel like, oh, I don’t really want to ask them for anything, they must be busy. I threw all that stuff in the window a long time ago. Usually if I want something, I frame it as a joke, kind of like I’m talking shit. I did this the other day. It was a buddy of mine. He sent us a couple cases a year or two ago, and I haven’t received anything from him in a couple years. And not because he’s sending them to somewhere else, it’s just they don’t fall on his lap. So I just random email him like, Hey bro, why haven’t you sent me any cases? Do you not like money anymore? I just… But that starts a very funny back and forth conversation. And now it’s like, oh man, I got to get on that. I do like money. But it’s just me just talking shit.
Pratik Shah (00:32:50):
Yeah. Right. And that’s just who you are naturally, which you’re clearly a people person, you clearly have that ability to just talk to people like they’re your best friend, even though you just met them. And that’s something not everybody has, of course. So everybody’s got different skill levels and different talents, but one of the things I always tell people is, if you are not comfortable just cold reaching out to people without anything in common, then whatever activity you like doing… My old business partner, Arthur, he’s a surfer. He loved to surf. So I’m like, great, you surfing, there are other lawyers that like to surf, just reach out to them and go surfing with them, and you’re doing the activity you were going to do anyways, but now you’re building a relationship with somebody that you can either get maybe… And like you said, if they’re a mutant and they’re totally awkward, don’t surf with them again.
You don’t have to. Don’t feel obligated to do it if you don’t like that person. But there’s got to be an attorney in San Diego that also surfs that you can also get along with, and that’s what you should be trying to find. If you’re not naturally this, I’m just going to cold email people and reach out, then find that mutual activity that you can do together, whatever it may be, and build relationships that way. But that persistence that you talked about, that determination that, hey, I’m going to keep reaching out, and the follow up. It’s always going to be about follow up. And if you’re kind of wrapping up shop saying, hey, I sent out a few emails… There’s an old story that I heard once from some Instagram guy or podcast or whatever where the guy said that he had opened a gym, and he wanted to get people to his gym, and he asked his mentor at the time, “Hey, how do you get people to your gym? I want to get people to my gym.”
And the guy’s like, “Well, I put flyers on cars, and that seems to work for us.” So this guy goes out, he puts out 500 flyers on cars, he comes back to the mentor and he says, “Hey, I got basically nobody.” And the mentor says, “Well, how many flyers did you put out? He said, “I put out 500, and I got nothing.” And the mentor says, “Well, we test with 5,000. That’s how we test before we actually go out and put our flyers and figure out what our actual campaign is going to be. 500 is just not enough.” And so that leads me to my next question for you, is have there been times where you’ve sent out those contact emails trying to meet with people, and you get crickets?
Mike Valiente (00:35:07):
Yeah, 100%. And just before we dive into this one, everyone has different skills, and you have to know what you’re good at. And my business partner is great at starting conversations. I am terrible at it. You met Tim before you met me, and that wasn’t by coincidence. I probably saw you around, I was like, I don’t know him, I don’t know who he is or what he wants, I’m staying away from him, stranger danger. But Tim’s like, “Hey, Tim Mott. What’s your name?” And I’m terrible at that. I’m awful at that. I’m not good at that. But together, once the conversation has started, then I’m in, then I feel comfortable, then I can go from there.
But I’ve never felt comfortable going up to strangers or even people in the same legal community and just introducing myself. It’s never been a strong suit for me, so I just don’t do it. And it’s just something, Tim is there to pick up the slack, because I don’t feel comfortable doing it, and I’m not going to. But once the conversation’s started, I’m also good at keeping the relationship going and wanting to hang out. And then of course, I already forgot your question.
Pratik Shah (00:36:06):
That’s okay. We were talking about reaching out and getting no responses.
Mike Valiente (00:36:10):
Yeah, no. What I was doing a lot when I was in law school, so when I was in law school, I had business cards made that said, I am almost a lawyer, and almost was in brackets, and then I would just pass this out and be like, look, I can’t give you any legal advice, but if you have a need, I can at least try and point to the right direction. But I was always trying to meet people and do the things. So even when I was clerking, whenever I saw an attorney who was really, really good at their craft, I would send them an email. I was like, hey look, I’m clerking, I thought you were amazing, any chance we can grab lunch? And what I always tell the law school students when we have these dinners, and I’ll say, “Look, you’re going to have a hard time finding anybody who doesn’t want a free lunch and an hour to talk about themselves.” You know what I mean?
It’s very hard for them to say no. It’s like, wait, wait, wait, you’re going to buy me lunch, and I get to talk about how awesome I am for an hour? Yeah. Everyone’s going to say yes to that. And if they say no, then they’re an asshole, you don’t want to hang out with them anyway. No big deal. So when I was in law school, I would do that a lot, and then I would get no responses from certain attorneys, they just wouldn’t even respond to me, and at the time, I remember thinking, oh, what an asshole, but now I get it.
I get so many emails, so many spam emails from people I’ve never met that just want my business, asking for SEO services, that I just ignore all of them, because I assume there’s no real person behind any of those emails. They’re just bots that are just trying to get my business. So now being in this position, I get why some of the times they wouldn’t responded, but I probably also gave up too easily. I probably should have been like, hey, I’m a real person, just trying to take you out to lunch.
Pratik Shah (00:37:38):
Yeah. Yeah. Not a bot. Not a bot. Yeah-
Mike Valiente (00:37:46):
Not a bot. Yeah-
Pratik Shah (00:37:47):
Well, that’s something a bot would say, so that doesn’t really help. So I want to go back a little bit in chronology. We deep dive into a lot of stuff of why you’ve been successful individually, why your business has been successful in hiring the right people, but I want to go back because it’s not all rainbows and sunshines in running a practice and in growing a practice. And one of the things we like to talk about on the pod is getting raw and real about the ups and downs. A lot of the people that listen are people that are working that job at that defense firm like you were, and they’re debating on what they want to do. They’re really asking themselves, is this what I want to do for the next 25 years of my life? And they’re considering starting their own practice. And there’s a lot of stuff that tells them, it’s going to be amazing, you should do it, but… And we’ve talked about that. I want to hear some of the reasons why they shouldn’t do it. What is the worst part of running your own practice?
Mike Valiente (00:38:34):
The worst part. So sometimes the interoffice dynamics can be tiresome at times in the sense that me and Tim generally want to do well by our employees. Me and Tim, when we’re at the defense, we describe it as waking up and being like, fuck, another day, got to go grind this out, got to put food on the table, and we don’t want that. So we try to create this really awesome environment where not only people are expected to work hard, but they get rewarded for doing so. And sometimes we both feel that we give and we give and we give and we give, and then sometimes it just seems like it’s not received as us going above and beyond, it seems like, well, what about this, you know what I mean? Can I also get that? And that to me is probably the part that stresses me out the most, because I feel like we just do so much, and we feel like we do so much.
And when we look around, nobody else is doing half the stuff that we do to make sure staff are happy and fulfilled. And then when we get these little, oh, can I also do this, and are trying to take advantage of the system, I just want to pull my hair out, you know what I mean? So that’s me. It doesn’t happen often, but when it happens, I’m just like, “Come on guys.” I’m like, “We’re really trying to be good people here. We don’t want to be those guys that writes you up for being five minutes late. We don’t want to be those guys that writes you up because you ran out of PTL, but your kid was sick. That’s not us, man. We don’t want to be those guys. We want to be cool and have this awesome place where you can come to work.”
But sometimes they almost force you to have to be, because if you don’t, then the next person’s going to be like, well, so and so got to do this, and what about me? It just drives me nuts, man. Luckily now we’re big enough where we have kind of an office manager who does this great job being the middleman between staff and me and Tim, so it seems to have leveled everything out where me and Tim aren’t really in the middle of those things anymore. They can usually get solved before it even reaches our desk kind of thing. So that’s probably the hardest part of running a firm. But at the beginning, it’s kind of scary, man. You’re leaving a good salary, if you have a family, you could fail, and that’s always kind of a scary part. There was a time at the beginning where, after me and Tim joined up, we were both almost out of money.
We were pretty close. Tim, to start the firm, sold his house and moved his whole family, rented a house, and the money from the sale of his house is what he needed to float his life. And he was probably two months out of having absolutely nothing left, maybe a 401k that he could have fire sold. I was pretty much two weeks, three weeks away from liquid cash, and then I was going to have to either borrow, sell the house, or start making drastic changes on how our family was living, like pull kids out of private school or whatever the case may be. And we hit that one big case at the right time that kind of changed everything, but we were this close just to being like, hey guys, is this going to work? You know what I mean? And that’s the scary part, because I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I’d rather kill myself than go back to the defense firm and be like, hey, I failed, can I have my job back? You know what I mean?
That is never to happen. I’d rather go back to selling real estate before I go back and beg for my job as a failure. I won’t do it. So that was probably the hardest part. But there’s a lot of mistakes along the way that you kind of figure out. If you have a mentor, you can minimize the mistakes that you make along the way. But there was one day where we had to fire three people in one day, and that was hard, thinking-
Pratik Shah (00:42:00):
Tell me about that?
Mike Valiente (00:42:03):
We call it Black Friday. Tim and I had just come back from a conference in which all these law firm owners were bitching about their staff, about how awful they are, and they’re not a good worker, and me and Tim were like, “Our staff is great. We have no issues. Everyone gets along. They’re all friends.” And the day we came back from that conference, our staff members called this meeting to tell us about all these awful things that were happening underneath our nose, and it was just gossip and drama and backstabbing and lies and all this stuff.
And once we figured out who was all involved, we made a choice that we had to excise all the cancer, even though at the time we probably only had nine staff. So we’re talking about firing a third of our staff in one shot, and what are we going to do? Reza, he’s been a mentor this whole time. He kind of gave us the confidence to do it. Essentially he kind of told us what to do, and how to handle it, and we followed his advice, and it was the best thing that ever happened. Anybody, I think, who was there that day that was not fired, has stuck through us moving forward, but it was definitely one of those seminal moments in the life of the firm where it could have gone either way.
Pratik Shah (00:43:17):
When you have those moments… We had that moment at my old firm where we realized who actually was the problem, and you have to go through this process where you end up having to let some people go, which is always not fun. Nobody wants to tell people, hey, you’re not getting a paycheck anymore. I don’t know what you’re going to tell your family, but you’re going to tell them that you don’t work here. And that’s always a crappy position to be in. But you’re right, you don’t have a choice. It’s part of the gig, part and parcel of being a business owner. And at the end of the day, you can’t just do what you want to do, you have to do what’s best for the business. The business kind of takes a life of its own. And you have to think, I am just a messenger of this business, and my job is to do and execute what is best for the business overall, and that’s part of it.
But one of the things that really always drove us up a wall, and it sounds like you too, is when stuff like that happens, having to take time to stop… Because everybody’s busy. You’re working on cases every day, you’re trying to close cases, get back to clients, move forward, move the business forward, get the clients to treatment, et cetera, et cetera, and really manage the business, and now you got to put all that on pause and you got to say, we got to figure out what is going on, because we can’t take care of these clients if our team is going to quit on us. And so talk to me about those days. Was this a few hours investigation, days? What does that look like?
Mike Valiente (00:44:41):
Yeah. So to touch on one of the points you made in there, I think that’s one of the hardest things that business owners have to do, is they’re either afraid or don’t want to fire people. And look, it sucks. It sucks having to do that. These are real people with families, but we have hired staff members that all came from one or two firms, and it’s crazy to me that the law firm owners of those firms don’t take a step back, look in the mirror and say, why is everybody leaving us, and nobody’s leaving them? And it always stems from one staff member that either brings in a lot of business or has been there since the beginning, and the owners don’t realize that that person is a cancer to everybody else, and the unwillingness to part with that person that’s causing all these problems, because either they don’t know, or they don’t want to know, or they know and they don’t care.
So that’s always a big problem. In terms of that particular investigation, once we found out, I think from finding out to everyone getting fired, it probably took week and a half before we find out what was going on, what were the lies that were being told. All of it stemmed from a bunch of nonsense and jealousy that was ill-placed. And once we kind of figured that out, it was one main culprit, a supporting act, and then one that kind of was tangentially in the mix, but kept being named in all these other things… And we felt bad about the third one, but it needed to happen. All three kind of needed to go, and it was the best thing for us just to move forward for the benefit of the business.
Pratik Shah (00:46:06):
Yeah. I want to go back and touch on, as we get close to wrapping up here, I want to touch on a couple of things you mentioned earlier. You mentioned that you were about two or three weeks away from just running out of cash and having to figure out where to get more cash from. Talk to me about the weeks leading up to that realization of… You obviously had this big case. You mentioned that the big case kind of came in to help you out. Was that a case you guys were handling in-house, or was that something you had brought in another firm? How did that work? Were you just waiting on certain things to happen?
Mike Valiente (00:46:39):
It was a perfect storm of events on that particular case. So it was sent to us from one of the California firms. A big California firm just sent an email saying, hey, sounds like a good case, could be a good case, take a look at it. One email, we signed it up, and it was a 1997 Hyundai Elantra makes a left hand turn in front of oncoming traffic, and we represented the passenger. Flight for life, horrific injuries, million in meds. And everybody thought it was an interpleader case. Everyone thought it was an interpleader because there’s no way this Hyundai Elantra who’s at fault is going to have any coverage.
So lo and behold, the car was owned by Molly Maids, and big commercial policy in the mix, we found another source of liability, and demands had gone out right around that time, and they ended up coughing up all the policies. So it was kind of a fluke. It all kind of lined up perfectly. But in the weeks coming up, man, I remember talking to my wife about the possibility of selling our house and buying something smaller in a worst part of town so we can float things. I remember talking to her about pulling the kids out of private school and putting them in a public school, selling cars. There was nothing that wasn’t on the table that-
Pratik Shah (00:47:47):
How did those conversations go?
Mike Valiente (00:47:50):
Not great. You try telling your wife you got to sell your house and move to a smaller one in a worse part of town. Not great, but at the same time, she believed in me. She knew that this was going to work out one way or another, so she was on board. She was ride or die, if you will. She was willing to make those tough decisions. Luckily we didn’t have to, because it all kind of worked out, but we were pretty close to having to make some drastic changes at the time, so crazy-
Pratik Shah (00:48:13):
How many kids did you have at the time?
Mike Valiente (00:48:15):
At the time, I had two. Two, yeah.
Pratik Shah (00:48:19):
And then did it get to the point where you had started to have conversations with the kids that you guys might have to change schools?
Mike Valiente (00:48:24):
Oh no, the kids were still young at the time. I want to say at the time, my son was three or four, and my daughter was six months and year old kind of thing. So not to the point where they were going to have to have those conversations. They didn’t what was going on, but just decisions were going to be made around them.
Pratik Shah (00:48:41):
Yeah. So you had these demands out, how many employees did you have at that time right around that situation?
Mike Valiente (00:48:48):
I think one. Yeah, it was me and Tim, I think we had one, maybe two employees. I think only one at the time. We were still sharing that 10 by 10 office, free space. And that came through right around Christmas time. Right around December of 2018 is when that first big one hit. And then after that, it was like, we can breathe, we had enough money to pay bills and start hiring staff, finding a big boy lease, you know what I mean? Our own space, and started making those expenditures. But at the beginning, it was very much fake it till you make it.
Pratik Shah (00:49:20):
Yeah. Because it’s not like real estate. Running a law firm’s not like real estate. You don’t have a hard asset that you can go to the bank and say, hey, I’ve got this hard asset, give me a loan against this hard asset, and then the bank can put a lien on it. There’s no place to get cash other than your own pocket or settling cases. That’s it. In the real estate business, it’s different. You’ve got assets, and until you’ve completely leveraged everything, you could still go to the bank and say, hey, I’ve got this hard asset, give me a little something on it? It’s not that easy, but we know how that works. But there’s nowhere to go in a law firm. You better-
Mike Valiente (00:49:55):
No. There’s nowhere to go. There might be some exorbitant rates out there that’ll lend you on future cases kind of thing, but what they want is a pound of flesh.
Pratik Shah (00:50:01):
That’s loan sharks. They’re basically loan sharks-
Mike Valiente (00:50:05):
That’s different. They’re basically loan sharks. So me and Tim were fortunate enough that, from the beginning, we didn’t take on any debt. It was all cash floated. It still is. Aside from the building that we bought, we have a line of credit that we’ve never used once, and everything else has been floated cash. There might be some people on here who might disagree with that method, but I can sleep pretty easily knowing I don’t have any debt lingering over my head. So worst case scenario, there’s nobody coming looking for their money. So it’s great.
Pratik Shah (00:50:32):
What was the worst day you had being a law firm owner?
Mike Valiente (00:50:39):
Dude, that’s a tough one. I have no idea. I don’t think that there really have been that many. I think the hardest one was leaving my last job. I don’t know why, but you almost get that feeling that… They don’t do it intentionally, but you feel like you’re letting somebody down somehow. It’s almost like you’re letting down your dad that was mentoring you or something like that. So I think that was probably the hardest. I remember after I put in my notice, and it was my last day, and I was driving home, I called Tim. At the time, we were still talking. Tim was debating coming with me at the time. I remember calling him, and when I left, I was just crying and laughing at the same time. That drive home from that last day of work, I was just so excited to be done and moving on to whatever the next thing was going to be. It was this weird experience. He deleted the voicemails. I was really upset about that.
Pratik Shah (00:51:30):
Oh man. What do you think is the best decision you’ve ever made as a business owner, if you can point to one? Obviously you make decisions on a daily basis, but if there’s one you can look at and say, thank God we did that, because that was a turning point.
Mike Valiente (00:51:48):
I feel like making the decision to open in the first place, hands down, best decision I ever made. 100%. Second one after that is probably partnering with Tim. Nonce have I ever said, I wish I didn’t have a partner so I can have all this money. I feel like me and Tim have worked so well moving forward that we’ve grown this thing, I think, much bigger than we would’ve been able to do individually on our own. Even if you divide it in half, it’s still bigger than if it would’ve just been me kind of thing. He brings a lot of different things to the table that I just don’t have, and I hope he would say the same thing about me where I can do the things or work on the stuff that he doesn’t want to, or isn’t good at, whatever the case may be.
But together, it’s been absolutely fantastic. And then I think other than that, it’s just taking calculated risks at the beginning, but not a lot. At the beginning, there was a tendency for new law firm owners to sign up every piece of garbage case that comes in through the door, because you think you need to. And me and Tim, I think strategically did not take on a lot of trash. We took on cases that we knew we’d get paid on, that were likely not going to be litigated. And at the beginning, I thought that was the best thing for us to do. And then as we got bigger, we were able to loosen up those strings a little bit to take on riskier cases, take on questionable cases. And even if we didn’t have the manpower and the money to litigate them, we can at least find another firm that was willing to take these smaller cases.
But at the beginning, I think it was just very calculated steps with very few missteps along the way, either through mentors or just being very careful in the cases you wanted to take. So you sign up that trash case today when you don’t have anything to do, but a year from now when you’re busy, that’s still going to be there, and you’re still going to spend a lot of time on it. So those problematic clients or cases, it’s kind of hard to make those decisions to say no early on, but I think me and Tim did a pretty good job doing that until we got big enough to be able to take on more risk. And then investing in yourself, you know what I mean? At the beginning when you’re starting off, your cases all come from word of mouth, friends and family, and your overhead’s really, really low.
And then that can get you only so big, so you’re going to have to make a decision that, hey man, if you want to get bigger than these 15 cases a month that you’re getting from organically word of mouth, friends and family, former clients, it costs money to get past that, you know what I mean? And that’s the part that, if you want to keep growing past 30, 40, 50, 60, 100 cases, there’s a dollar amount that’s associated with that level of growth, and you’re not going to get there without spending it. So it certainly is true that you’re going to have to spend it to make it after a certain point.
Pratik Shah (00:54:20):
And reinvesting into your own business instead of outside things and getting distracted by shiny object syndrome, which a lot of people do.
Mike Valiente (00:54:27):
Yeah, for sure.
Pratik Shah (00:54:29):
The counter to that, what do you think were the worst decisions you’ve made as a business owner?
Mike Valiente (00:54:35):
Probably some hiring decisions early on I think probably today wouldn’t have made it through the vetting process, but you live and you learn kind of thing. There’s always those cases in there that just gave you gray hairs that you wish you wish you wouldn’t have taken kind of thing, but looking back, I think the good days far outweigh the bad days, where I can’t go back and think of a lot of mistakes that I wish I wouldn’t have done. Sure, there’s a few in there, but not any that are make or break kind of thing. Just a few things, oh, I wish I would’ve done that differently. I think for the most part, either through Tim’s experience and connections, or my experience and connections, I think together we’ve been able to step carefully without falling off any cliffs. It’s been-
Pratik Shah (00:55:20):
And stepping carefully, it seems like the goal or the thought process is, we’d rather miss out on a potential big upside if that’s going to come with big risk. Is that fair to say?
Mike Valiente (00:55:37):
Yeah. I think early on, you got to be very careful. When we were on the defense, there was… I forget the case, but it was this case where the law firm owner invested every penny he had. He thought he was going to retire. He thought it was his retirement case, some Lyme disease case or something. I think he had a million and a half in costs into this big case, and he was asking the jury for 50, if I remember correctly, and he got defensed, and he had to close up shop. All his money was gone. And so when you’re early on, you got to be very careful with those things. I remember… I forget who it was, but one of the law firms in California that we met along the way, he said, “You shouldn’t be trying any cases until you’re five, 10 years in. If it’s a litigation case, you should refer it out, until you have enough of a nest egg built in that you can take an L on one, and it’s not going to be the end of the world.”
So that’s just something to kind of keep in mind when you’re starting off, that if you do one wrong move, if there’s a lot of skin in the game, a lot of money invested, could change the future. So you got to be very careful. So at the beginning, if you have that good litigation case, but you’re not really sure if you can handle it on your own, I’d rather take half without the cost risk than take the cost risk and take an L and lose all this money I invested into it. Sometimes we got lucky. We got pitched to buy mass torts, and we were this close to investing 200 grand into all these mass tort cases, and a buddy of ours in California kind of talked us out of it.
He was like, “Hey guys, I don’t know. That one seems a little risky. I’ve worked with mass torts before. I think they’re selling you a bill of goods.” And sure enough, three days later, this ruling came out from some federal court that none of these guys have a claim. We’re a week from pissing 200 grand, but… You know what I mean? That could have just as easily, the timing could have been three days sooner, and we would’ve lost it. So sometimes it’s luck, sometimes it’s just talking to people who know and just seeing what they think, and just weighing it out. And
Pratik Shah (00:57:36):
I think one thing that has been obvious here is that you’re not afraid to ask around for people and ask for their thoughts on something, and then weigh their thought process against your own, and see if it’s the right move that you want to do. I think a lot of people feel this need to show that they know everything, or show that they’re just as smart as everyone else, and they’re afraid to ask people like, hey, this thing’s been offered to me, what do you think I should do, and kind of listen to their advice.
So I think that’s a huge advantage. And then to add to that, obviously there are some people out there that are willing to be helpful and provide great counsel because they’re just good people, and then there are people that want to provide counsel and push you in a certain way because they have their own agenda. How are you able to navigate between those two people as you meet a lot of people in the industry, a new industry obviously for you versus real estate, and understanding who is actually giving me good, genuine advice, and who is actually just trying to direct me into doing what they want me to do?
Mike Valiente (00:58:41):
To your point about surrounding yourself with mentors, I feel very comfortable being the dumbest person in the room. And in fact, that’s what I want. If I’m the smartest person in the room, I need to hang out with new people, because I’m not going to learn anything. I often joke that if I knew somebody who owned a KFC, I’d probably own a KFC too, just because you’re gleaning from these people who’ve done it, who’ve been there. But to answer your question, how do you differentiate between one and the other? I think it’s time. Anybody who comes out of the woodwork promising the moon, I’m skeptical, but anybody who’s been around, I’ve talked to for months, years, whatever the case may be, and now we’re friends, and they’re somewhat of a mentor, then I’m more inclined to rely on their advice than somebody who just showed up pitching whatever the case may be. So I think it’s just surrounding yourself with the right people and just time.
Pratik Shah (00:59:30):
Well, I think specifically what I’m alluding to is, when you start your firm and you start talking to the bigger litigation houses, and they’re giving you advice like what you said earlier about, hey, don’t litigate, don’t try any cases for five years, get a bankroll first, and then do it now, now that’s great advice, but many people starting their own firm may interpret that advice as, well, this person wants me to send them all my cases, that’s why they’re telling me that. And something like that, it’s hard for people to understand it. And I agree with what you’re saying, that the time helps you develop the instinct on what’s actually right and what’s not, and who’s actually being legitimate and who isn’t, but I think there’s a fear for a lot of folks that they’re going to get taken by some bigger firm who’s trying to convince them to do something that is not in their best interest. How do you avoid that?
Mike Valiente (01:00:18):
That’s a good question. I think you just have to weigh the credibility of the person against your own belief or thought system, you know what I mean? This person who was working in California, they weren’t asking us for anything. He was just saying, hey, that’s my 2 cents, and you take it with a grain of salt kind of thing, and then you just weigh their advice against what you think is the right choice, you discuss it with your partner if you have one, whatever the case may be, weigh ideas and come up with the best choice given the information that’s in front of you. And I think that’s really the best anybody can do, is there’s going to be those people who are going to try and sell you a bill of goods, and they’re going to try to talk you out of one thing to get your business.
We’ve all experienced that, just those who are trying to talk you out of one thing because it’s against their interests or whatever the case may be, but I feel like on some level, you can always pick up on that. I feel like on some level, you can always feel that, that wait a minute, what’s going on here? It seems weird that they’re calling me for at this particular moment in time, when I told them I have this thing going on, they want to shit on it. I don’t know. Why are they doing that? So I feel like you can almost pick up on it intuitively. Whether it’s not overt on the surface, there’s a feeling there when there’s some strings attached to whatever they’re telling you. But other than that, I don’t know.
Pratik Shah (01:01:28):
Yeah, you just take your chances. And sometimes if you listen to people, and they gave you great advice and it works out, that’s great. Sometimes you don’t listen to them because you think they have some agenda, and sometimes you’re right, and sometimes you’re wrong, and that’s just part and parcel of navigating your business, I guess.
Mike Valiente (01:01:44):
And sometimes you just have to dabble. Sometimes with these companies that try to sell you leads, these lead gens, they’re all selling you a bill of goods, but sometimes it’s like, hey, let’s roll the dice on five grand and let’s see what comes. If they deliver, great, cool. That adds to the confidence to buy more. If they don’t, then we took a shot at it. But your ability to make those kind of riskier plays will grow as the firm grows. At the beginning, you’re kind of hesitant of everybody, just because you don’t know what’s going to work out.
Pratik Shah (01:02:11):
Yeah. And then there’s just the life experience. For somebody like you who’s had businesses, grown, made money, lost it, started over, doing all that, you’ve had the life experience of being around people that are genuine and being around people that are just hustling you. You’ve seen that. In the real estate industry, there’s a ton of that. There’s a ton of that in every industry, but you’ve been there and done that. So for people that haven’t had that previous career, this is part of their life experience of, they’re going to learn who they can trust and who they can’t in the industry.
Mike Valiente (01:02:40):
They’re going to learn the hard way one way or the other. And that’s where Tim and I are probably the most different. I feel like Tim starts off liking everybody until proven otherwise. I am the opposite. I start off disliking everybody equally. You have to earn my like, because I automatically-
Pratik Shah (01:02:51):
I feel honored.
Mike Valiente (01:02:52):
… Distrust you. Yeah. I think you’re full of shit. I don’t know you. You’re trying try to rob me. So you have to earn my like, and that’s kind of where we’re different. But you’re going to get burned along the way. I feel like that’s life lessons. Even with your kids, man, you got to let them make some mistakes. You learn more about that time you lost money than the time you made money. The life lesson’s really valuable there when you got taken, or you got hustled, whatever the case may be, and it’s like, never again.
Pratik Shah (01:03:16):
Yeah. And it’s okay to make those mistakes. I think people are just so afraid of, hey, if I start this and I start doing X, Y, Z, and it doesn’t work out, I made a mistake, I’m a failure. It’s like, that’s not how it works. That’s part of the success plan, is that you have to make mistakes. There’s so many that I think all of us have made that we can point to and say what you said, which is, I’ve learned more from those mistakes than I have learned from the right decisions I’ve made, because you look back on the right decisions, and you’re like, yeah, I was right. There’s nothing to learn from that.
You’re already right. You already had it right. It’s the ones where you were wrong where you’re like, okay, I did that last time, I don’t want to get burned again. But I want to kind of bring this to an end. This has been a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to hear Tim’s side of it on part two, but one of the questions I always like to ask guests is, if you could go back in time and you could talk to Mike who was in law school, and you could give him some piece of advice, what would it be? And it doesn’t have to be advice. What would you tell him?
Mike Valiente (01:04:11):
No, no, no, this is great. In law school, the advice going back would’ve been to make more of an effort of making friends with everybody there. Everyone’s a potential referral source. And unfortunately when I was in law school, I wasn’t there to make friends. I was there with a purpose. I had a family. I had a kid. I was here to knock this thing out as quickly, as good as I could, very fast. And so I wasn’t there to make friends. So I wasn’t going to bar reviews, and people took that the wrong way. They saw me as arrogant and not around.
So I only walked out of law school with probably two really, really good friends, but a long list of people that probably dislike me for reasons that were outside of my control. Why anybody would not like me is beyond me. But probably the advice would be, I should have made more of an effort at being friendly to everybody versus just picking my two friends, like you said in law school, and only sticking with them kind of thing. That’s the advice I would’ve given. I probably would be getting a lot more referrals from people I knew in law school had I done that.
Pratik Shah (01:05:07):
Yeah. Great. Great. Awesome. Awesome. Thank you, Mike. Mike, this was an absolute pleasure. I want to thank everybody for listening or watching. We’ll see you on the next episode of Bootstrapped Solo. And remember, just because guys like Mike make it look effortless, it doesn’t mean that it is. And one ask for all of you that are listening, if you enjoyed the pod, please share where you share stuff, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok. We can only grow if you let others know about it. We’d appreciate your help in doing that. Thank you and see you next time on Bootstrapped Solo. Mike, where can people find you?
Mike Valiente (01:05:38):
Valientemott.com. Las Vegas, Utah, and coming to Missouri here pretty soon.
Pratik Shah (01:05:44):
Awesome. Awesome. So for those people that heard the part about Mike saying reach out to him, you could reach out to him, valientemott.com, and he might not respond. We’ll see.
Mike Valiente (01:05:55):
Depends if you’re a bot or not.
Pratik Shah (01:05:57):
Yeah, exactly. Thank you everybody, and thank you, Mike.
Mike Valiente (01:06:00):
Thank you. My pleasure.