Best Suit at the Kitchen Table
Episode 12: Best Suit at the Kitchen Table
Kris Mukherji started his firm out of his one bedroom apartment (that he shared with his wife) doing whatever necessary to secure referral sources and build his network to make it the successful law firm it is today. Join Pratik Shah and Kris as they discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of starting your own firm on this episode of The Bootstrapped Solo.
In This Episode
Kris Mukherji, The Law Office of Kris Mukherji, APC
Pratik Shah (00:07):
All right. Welcome everyone to another episode of Bootstrapped Solo. I am your host, Pratik Shah, 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 who want to know what it’s really like to start, run, and grow a practice. Today’s guest is my good friend, Kris Mukherji. He runs a solo practice called The Law Office of Kris Mukherji out of San Diego. His practice is focused on business litigation, estate planning, and personal injury. He started his practice back in 2012 and has been growing ever since. Kris, welcome to the show. Thank you for being on.
Kris Mukherji (00:45):
Thanks for having me, man. Thank you.
Pratik Shah (00:47):
No man, you and I have known each other for a long time. We went to law school together, we did mock trial together, and I’ve seen you build your firm up and build a lifestyle business for yourself over the last 10 years that’s been really impressive, and I know you’re familiar with the show, so I want to get started right away. We graduated in 2012, passed the bar, and you started your practice in the same year.
Kris Mukherji (01:13):
So we graduated May 2012. We took the bar in July. We got the results on November 16th, my wedding was November 17th. I got my bar results at wedding rehearsal dinner. Obviously, I passed. I was happy about that. I got sworn in December of that year in a private ceremony, and I started my firm right after that.
Pratik Shah (01:31):
Kris Mukherji (01:32):
So December of 2012 is when I started my practice or started taking care of the documentation to get my practice started. And then once that was done, by January of 2013, I was up and running.
Pratik Shah (01:43):
That’s awesome. So when you got your bar results, did you already know before the bar results came in that you wanted to start your own, or was this out of a necessity? How did you make that decision?
Kris Mukherji (01:54):
Oh no, no. I knew this going into law school. Actually my personal statement going into law school was actually about starting a practice in estate planning and business because I’d already been working in the business arena way before I went into law school. I went to law school when I was 28 years of age, so I had been working in the field for a while, so my personal statement going to law school was about estate planning and business, and so when I came out, the goal was to start my own practice, and I never looked back.
Pratik Shah (02:25):
That’s awesome. So you knew ahead of time what you were going to do, so you were never applying for jobs or trying to find something or anything like that. You just knew right away, “This is what I’m going to do.”
Kris Mukherji (02:37):
I will say this, I clerked the DA’s office. I really enjoyed it, and I think that’s where my love for litigation kind of came in just being around that. And I did mock trial obviously in high school and in parts of college and even in law school as well, so I really enjoyed that aspect of it, but having my own practice was always the goal. It was the goal when I went into law school and that was the goal I came out with as well.
Pratik Shah (03:01):
All right. So let’s talk a little bit kind of about money, right? Because that’s always important. At the end of the day, if you’re running a business, you got to be profitable. And a lot of times to start a business, you got to have a budget or something. Did you save up money? I mean, I know you went to night school, law school at night, and I think you worked during the day, right?
Kris Mukherji (03:18):
I did. So for me, law school’s four years, I worked law school. I was working full time during the day I was interning and then going to school at night. And that kind of changed a little bit when I got into the mock trial team. I still maintained a part-time schedule. I was still working, I was still going to school, and I was on the mock trial team as well, and I was interning, so I had a full schedule. I tell people that packed schedule actually helped me when it came time from the bar, and we can talk about that later. But as far as money saved up, there wasn’t enough for that. I mean, you’re spending pretty much everything on what you were doing back then.
Pratik Shah (03:52):
And living in southern California.
Kris Mukherji (03:55):
Living in Southern California, I remember my wife and I lived in a one bedroom apartment. We lived in a one bedroom apartment, and I would wake up every day, and I would put my suit on, and I would go sit on my dining table, and I would open the phone book, and I would cold call CPAs, financial planners, and realtors, and I’ll say, “Hey, look, I’m an attorney. I would like to take you out of happy hour, coffee, lunch, or dinner and talk to you by my business.”
Pratik Shah (04:17):
Yeah, I want get into that. Let me stop you there because before we get there what I want to kind of go in a little timeline a little bit cause I love that story. You’ve told me that before, and that’s why I wanted you on because I really want to get into that hustle. But before we get there, the reason I asked the money question is when you made this decision to start your firm or you passed the bar, you’re like, “Hey, I’m ready to go. Let’s do the paperwork.” Did you have a budget for your business or did you have like, “Oh I’ve got $25,000 saved up and that’s going to last me six months.” How does that work?
Kris Mukherji (04:49):
I had some money saved up obviously. And I will tell you this, so I think since I was 18 years old, I’ve been working as a strength and condition coach and a personal trainer, and I’ve done that for 17 years, and I did that my first couple of years as an attorney. So I was still doing that. I was still working as a strength and conditioning coach, a trainer while still being a lawyer. So that was like my income coming a little bit there to pay the rent and pay my car insurance, et cetera. But as far as a large sum of money saved up, I tell people this all the time. My first year out of law school, I think I made $23,000.
I’m serious, $23,000 and half of it or more of it was spent on going to happy hours and coffees and lunches and dinners just to meet people and networking people. But I understood that. I understood what I was doing and I remember having a conversation with my wife when I came out of law school and it was about, “Hey look, I can go and apply for a firm if I have to or I can struggle early on to build my practice up and then a couple years from now we won’t have to look back at it.” And that was the goal. And I remember going through those early struggles and questioning myself, but at the same time sticking down the path, and I’m glad I did.
Pratik Shah (06:05):
Yeah, no, I love that. So now you get had this conversation with your wife at the time, you had just gotten married, and she thinks she’s marrying a lawyer who’s going to go work big law and make a bunch of money and you tell her, “No, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to make $23,000.” And so what was her response? What was her response when you told her that?
Kris Mukherji (06:27):
Very supportive. I mean very supportive. My wife has been supportive all through law school, she was supportive while I was studying for the bar and while she was planning the wedding. So she was very supportive through the whole process and she agreed with it. She’s like, “Look, we can have the freedom later on if you go through struggles early on.” We kind of did that right. And I’m enjoying the rewards of those early struggles now.
Pratik Shah (06:50):
Yeah. And so let’s get into a little bit of these early struggles. I love hearing these stories because I think it really helps people know not only that it’s not easy, but what it takes and what kind of, not just a financial commitment, but time commitment and mental commitment it takes to really get to the point that you’ve gotten to. So you start to practice and you mention that you would get up in your own office or in your own home, put on a full suit, go down to the dinner table because you wanted to have that, is it because you wanted to have that mental switch of, “Hey, even if I’m in my house, I’m at work.”
Kris Mukherji (07:25):
If you’re in your pajamas, you’re never going to get in that mindset. It’s just not going to happen. And so you have to have an area that you call your office area. So there wasn’t any going downstairs, going upstairs. Like I say, we lived in a one bedroom apartment. I’d come out of my bedroom, the dining table there, and I’d kind of made that into my office, and I would put on my suit, and I would sit in front of my computer, and I would go on Google or open the phone book, and I would see who I could call that day to network. And that’s essentially what I would do.
And my goal was to set up network meetings with CPAs and financial planners and realtors because those are great referral sources for people who are in business and estate planning. And that’s what I would do. And I remember people being shocked that they were getting a cold call from a lawyer to take them out to happy hour, coffee, lunch, or dinner. But I understood the value of that. I understood the value of building those relationships, and I saw those paying off the second year and third year onwards.
Pratik Shah (08:17):
So when you would sit down on day one and you open up your computer and you say, okay, local CPAs or local realtors or whoever and you start calling, in a typical day, how many calls would you say you made?
Kris Mukherji (08:29):
I would have a goal. I want to try to make at least 20, 30 calls, valid calls. I want to go on LinkedIn, and I would type in CPA La Jolla, high estate CPAs or other attorneys. I reached out to a lot of attorneys and what I love about San Diego was I would say that 95% of them were very, very open to have conversations with me, and a lot of them kind of shaped the way my practice went with the advice they gave me, and they were very open with it. They never looked at me as competition. They always looked at me as a colleague that they wanted to help grow. And a lot of those relationships I still have till today. And at that networking event that I had at the Padres a couple years ago where you were there, a lot of those attorneys were there that helped me get started, and I’m very, very thankful for that.
Pratik Shah (09:16):
So let’s say, when you say 20 to 30 valid calls, what do you mean by a valid call?
Kris Mukherji (09:26):
You can make what I call junk calls and you just type in a CPA and just randomly call those people? So what I would do is I would try to hone my search in a little bit more in the area that I was working at, so I always wanted my practice to be in the UTC La Jolla area. That’s where I have it right now. So I would try to get my calls in either Carlsbad, La Jolla, Del Mar and Encinitas, Long Beach, Claremont, PB, that kind of area. And then I would go a little bit further north, a little bit further east if I had to. And eventually I had to start kind of broadening it more because I was kind of getting enough at that point. And I would say high estate, high value estate planners or I’d type in big firm CPAs or small firm CPAs or solo CPAs and just anybody that I could reach out to.
Realtors, a realtor Solana Beach, realtors La Jolla, realtors Del Mar, and there’s a million realtors out there. There’s probably more realtors and attorneys out there, so you’d be able to call anybody at that point. And then I’d kind of find out, when you look up a realtor, you want to see the realtors that survived 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, that downturn. So it was always great to see a realtor who started before that and survived it and was now in 2013, so those are the realtors that I wanted to connect with because I wanted to see what helped them survive their business. And those are the ones that are still around today. They’re the ones that are doing great today. So versus the ones that just started off as a part-time job and didn’t make it.
And I wanted to reach out to other attorneys that had thriving solo practices or small firm practices and see what they did when they came out.
Because she still practices obviously. And her name is Danielle Barger, and she was actually a professor at TGSL when we were there, and she was fantastic to me. She actually allowed me to use her office space for a good amount of time. She helped me get some clients, so she was instrumental when I first started my practice out, and she was very helpful, and I’m always going to be thankful to her for that. Pablo Palomino, another estate planning attorney, he’s still a good friend of mine, still a person I call on a regular basis. Walt Pennington for business law, I still call him on a regular basis for any questions that I have, and he’s never said no to me.
Pratik Shah (11:36):
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So you’re sitting at the dining table. I want to dig into this because I love this because I think a lot of people, they start their practice, and you started with zero clients, right?
Kris Mukherji (11:48):
Pratik Shah (11:49):
It’s not like you had some clients that were waiting in the wing, and you’re like, “Hold on, let me get my license. And then here’s a retainer. Now I got five clients when I start.” The day you open your laptop with your practice, zero clients.
Kris Mukherji (12:00):
Look and not to discount what we do as personal injury lawyers, but personal injury is a little bit different cause you’re doing the case on contingency. So you’re saying, “Hey, look, you’re not paying me anything. The insurance company is.” Well back then I wasn’t doing PI, it was purely estate planning and business, which requires people to come out of pocket. That was a little different ballgame to get people to trust you to pay for your services was a big thing.
Pratik Shah (12:24):
Yeah, yeah. No, you’re asking them to cut a couple thousand dollars check and hand it to you when they may be your first client.
So you start calling. Day one, you’re calling from the, and then day two you’re calling day three, you’re calling, and you continue to call, and you continue to have these meetings, and you’re setting up happy hours. Out of the 20 or 30 valid calls, how many times would you get actually a meeting set up would you say on average?
Kris Mukherji (12:50):
I came from a sales environment, and so I was pretty persuasive, and I think I came off as a genuine person. So 20, 30 valid calls that probably get maybe half the amount of people actually engaged and maybe have set PDs with another half of those, so it was a pretty good time, I would say.
Pratik Shah (13:07):
So about 10 to 15 would engage with you and then maybe about five to seven you’d actually set up a in-person meet.
Kris Mukherji (13:14):
Right. Because remember if you’re leaving messages, chances out not going to call you back. So you want to get the person on the phone, and you get them on the phone, you introduce yourself, you say, “Hey, look, I’m a new lawyer, I’m not looking for a job, but I’m looking for just to meet with you and just pick your brain.” And people like that. And so, “Let me take you out happy hour or coffee, lunch or dinner or whatever.” And they would engage. And usually what I found was established attorneys are able to gauge your character, engage, “Okay, this person’s truly committed, wants to be successful, is hardworking or not.” And they would start referring me cases. They would start referring me cases that they were like, “Hey look, Kris, this is not something that I’d want to take on. It’s a lower fee structure. Would you be interested?” “Yeah, absolutely.”
And I would do a great job with it and send them a thank you card, send them whatever. They would never ask referral fee, but I’d be more than happy to do that. And that’s how it started. And once you start doing good work and people see that and they realize that you are credible, they’ll refer you more cases, right? And that same thing happened with the list serve. I would go on the list serve and I would constantly pick people’s brain on it all the time. And I remember attorneys asking me, “Kris, how are you getting all these cases?” “I’m just talking to people. Just going out.”
Pratik Shah (14:33):
Literally it’s just asking for them. A lot of people are like, “How are you getting all these clients?” I’m like, “I’m literally just asking people to send me clients.” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, I haven’t done that.” They’re afraid to ask.
Kris Mukherji (14:44):
I think what happens a lot of times is people come out of law school with a sense of entitlement sometimes where they feel that, “Hey, I’m a lawyer now so I have to have a certain standard.” The problem with that is you haven’t established yourself yet. So for me it was, “I will do whatever. I will go wherever to build that reputations.” If I had to go to Orange County to meet with a client, I would do that. If I had to go to LA to meet with a client, I would do that. If I had to take a call at three in the morning because the client’s out of the country, I would do that. And that was just my mentality growing up. When I was a trainer, I would do the same thing as well. So I knew what I had to do, I knew what I had to do to kind of establish myself. I had a growing family, so I was committed, and I was vested in it.
Pratik Shah (15:34):
You have these 7 to 15 conversations, or excuse me, you’d have about 10 to 15 conversations, about 5 to 7 meetings set. And as you’re setting these, you’re probably setting the meeting out a few days. It’s not like, oh next day let’s meet whenever they’re available on their calendar.
Kris Mukherji (15:52):
It would be whenever they’re available. Whenever you’re available.
Pratik Shah (15:54):
So that may not be the next day, that might be three days from out. They may be going on vacation, “I’ll be back in two weeks.” “Okay, let’s meet then.” So you continue to make these calls, you continue to have these conversations, continue to set these meetings. Do you remember or can you estimate from your day one of sitting at your dinner table and making these calls to your day one of signing your first client, how long did that take?
Kris Mukherji (16:21):
It was within the first month. It was definitely within the first month.
Pratik Shah (16:23):
Kris Mukherji (16:24):
And it was a referral. It wasn’t like, it wasn’t a referral from a CPA, it was a referral from another attorney. I just remember that. But I also remember, you learn a lot from these referrals you get, and so I remember there was a client that I got that I looked at as a very good learning experience, and it got the results that I felt like that was best for them, but it was mainly referrals early on from other attorneys for cases they did not want to take.
Pratik Shah (16:54):
Yeah. Of course. And I think that’s how I started. And I think that’s just a common way to start. But two things I want to touch on with the fact that it was within the first month is that it’s both quick, and it’s both long. Because it’s quick now when you look at it you go, “Hey, it took a couple of weeks or whatever within the first month I signed a client.” But it’s long when every day you’re sitting at the dinner table, and you’re making the calls, and there’s no cases, and a week passes, and there’s no cases, and you’ve spent money on events. And I know you had the mindset where you were like, “I know this is an investment and I know this will pay off.” But for a lot of folks that maybe want to give this a shot, understand that it does take time. Don’t think you’re going to make calls for one day, have one set of meetings, and it’s going to turn into business.
Kris Mukherji (17:38):
Pratik Shah (17:40):
And that’s an important thing I want to talk about.
Kris Mukherji (17:40):
Look, I would say even took, yes, I got a case my first month, and I got cases every other month, every month or so, and it kind of built up from there, no question about it, but all those relationships that I established in that first year, 2013, I didn’t see that pay off till 2014. People need to realize that because those relationships that I established in 2014 is when those CPAs and realtors started referring me to those clients and connecting me people, throwing me a bone and seeing how I did, and did great, so they wanted to send me more.
So it took a while, but I understood that. I knew that was the game. I knew that you have to go through that process to do that. And if you’re coming out of law school, I need you to understand that. If you don’t get something the first day, the second day, the first month, don’t be discouraged. It takes time. The economy makes a big difference too. Because remember economy that we came out of from law school was not a great economy, it was building up at that point. So it’s a struggle but it’s a good struggle. It pays off in the end and you’ll be better for that.
Pratik Shah (18:47):
Do you remember, and if so, are you willing to share how much you generated from that first client?
Kris Mukherji (18:59):
I want to say it was probably around 1500 and that was I remember because I met with another attorney, his name is Sadar Chacar, he’s a fantastic attorney in San Diego and another person who was very helpful to me early on when I was starting my practice, and I remember he told me, he’s like, “Kris, you’re charging too little.” Right? He’s like, “You’re doing good work, you’re doing good product, you got to charge more for that.” And I was like, “Oh no I can’t.” And he helped me actually get my price up and that actually helped me build my business and build my credibility, so I’m very thankful to him for that.
Pratik Shah (19:35):
That’s awesome. But the reason I bring up that and the reason I want to talk about that is when you look at 1500, there are people that can look at that two ways. One way to look at that is you did all that work of all those calls and all those meetings, you got 1500 bucks. But the other way to look at it, look at that is hey, that’s a breadcrumb that’s leading to more, that’s leading to the next one, that’s leading to the next one.
Kris Mukherji (19:58):
A hundred percent. That one client was a referral source and is still a client till today. That client is still a client till today, that estate plan I made back then.
Pratik Shah (20:06):
10 years later.
Kris Mukherji (20:08):
10 years later, all my estate planning clients. I would say that those estate plans that I created 10 years ago, I’ve probably restated those trusts at least once. They’ve had kids and grandkids or whatever else, so those relationships you build last. When you start a estate planning or business client, that’s a long term relationship. It’s not a one and done thing, so that’s the way I look at it, and that’s the way I look at every client that I get.
Pratik Shah (20:34):
All right, so we figured out now how you started, how you started moving, how you started getting clients, really focused on relationship building within the community, not just with lawyers but other business professionals, and you start growing that way, getting referrals from your clients. And as you’re starting to build your practice and your clients are coming in, obviously we said at the top of the show that you’re a solo attorney, no employees. During this 10 year process, had you considered hiring people or did you always know you wanted it to just be you?
Kris Mukherji (21:05):
No, I absolutely considered hiring people. I’ve considered hiring people through the whole process, but one of the things that kind of scared me was, again, when you’re in law school you learn law, you don’t learn business. And so I was always concerned about the process of hiring somebody and then if the economy crashes and things don’t go well and you have to lay somebody off. I remember in 2020 I was in the same position. I was ready to bring on an associate, bring on a paralegal, and then we know happened in 2020. So I’m kind of back in that boat again where I’m looking to bring on either a paralegal or an associate because there’s a need for it. The practice has grown, and I would love to have somebody on board, but it’s the right fit to find that. So the goal is to grow the firm. It’s just how do we do it?
Pratik Shah (21:50):
Yeah, and that’s important. You’ve been doing this for 10 years. You clearly know how to make money, you clearly know how to get clients, you clearly know how to keep them happy. But even then as a business owner, we’re always learning.
Kris Mukherji (22:01):
A hundred percent.
Pratik Shah (22:02):
We’re always learning. And I think that’s, nobody knows, there is no playbook is what I’m trying to tell people. And it’s okay to learn, and it’s okay to make mistakes. And so with that, that leads me to my next question. In 10 years, what would you say was your biggest mistake as a business owner?
Kris Mukherji (22:25):
You have to learn to say no. Right? And let me kind of elaborate that. You don’t have to take every client that comes to you. You don’t have to. Some of them you’ll be emotionally vested in, some of them you’ll want to do it as a favor to somebody else, but I remember one of the worst clients I ever had was one of my earliest clients I ever had, and I was taking that client because I was desperate. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I need a client.” But I remember everything in my body told me, “don’t take that client.” I had people around me were like, “Don’t take that client.” But I took that client, and it was a very, very good learning experience. It was a very good learning experience. But I would want somebody to learn that by just hearing me out and saying, “Hey look, when the hair on the back of your neck standing up and saying, ‘Don’t take this client,’ perhaps you shouldn’t take that client.”
I learned from it, but I want somebody else to just use my words and learn that now and not have to go through that.
Pratik Shah (23:24):
Of course, what was so bad about it?
Kris Mukherji (23:27):
It was a client that you could have put them in the best situation, and it wouldn’t be good enough.
Pratik Shah (23:34):
Kris Mukherji (23:35):
But it was a good learning experience overall and I’m happy I went through it. But I learned from that experience very early on to say no. So now when I get some clients, they could be high value clients, they could be high dollar amount clients, they can pay, but if I just don’t feel good about that situation or that case or whatever else, I’ll say no. I’ll say, “Look, I’m not the best person for this. Let me find you somebody else. Or let me refer you to the lawyer referral service. There’s other people out there that’ll be willing to take this case. Unfortunately I’m not the right person for it.” And a lot of times the client appreciate that, and it’s good for my sanity as well.
Pratik Shah (24:08):
And it’s really hard in the early days because you put in all this effort in generating this business, in building relationships, and you’re starting to see the fruits of the labor, and you see this as one of those potential fruits of that labor, and it turns out it’s rotten to keep the analogy going. But in the beginning it’s hard because you’re like, “Well look, mean bills are coming. The bills don’t stop, the rent doesn’t stop. Electricity doesn’t stop. Buying stuff for whatever doesn’t stop.” And so I think in the beginning we’re all willing to deal with a little bit more of a tougher client than we’d be willing to deal with today.
Kris Mukherji (24:44):
Right. I agree. Because look at that point, you don’t really have much of a choice. My son was born in 2014, so it was my second year of my practice. And remember at that point, practice is growing, but you now have another reason to do what you have to do. But again, at that point your goal changes, “Okay, I want to be the perfect dad, I want to be the perfect husband, the perfect father.” And so you still at that point need to do a check and say, “Okay, do I need this client? Is this client going to be the right client for my sanity, for my emotional state? Is this client going to mess up my mind when I come home and want to play with my kids?” You have to ask that question. And I ask that question every single time I get a client even till today. Even till today, I have no problem saying no to clients if I know that when I come home I’m going to be in a better mental state and a better emotional state for my family.
Pratik Shah (25:42):
Yeah, yeah. That’s super important. I mean it’s really interesting you say, because you started your practice end of 2012, really started 2013, your first full year, January to December you make $23,000. Not January, but in 2014 your son is born.
Kris Mukherji (25:58):
Pratik Shah (26:00):
So that probably, and obviously your wife was pregnant for nine months before, so you knew this was coming, this wasn’t obviously a surprise. And you start seeing those numbers, and you start thinking to yourself, “How do I get this going? Because 23,000 ain’t going to cut it.”
Kris Mukherji (26:15):
No. And obviously like I said, all those relationships that I built in 2013 kind of started panning out in 2014. So I tell people in 2014, I more than doubled what I did in 2015. So I would say 2014.
Pratik Shah (26:27):
Or in ’13.
Kris Mukherji (26:29):
Yeah. So in 2014 I was probably around the lower 50, which still isn’t good enough for living in San Diego and being a lawyer. But in 2016 I probably doubled that again. So yeah, just 2015 probably doubled that again. And it’s just gotten better ever since.
Pratik Shah (26:47):
Going from there.
Kris Mukherji (26:49):
But again, the key element is you don’t stop establishing and building those relationships, and you don’t stop networking, you don’t stop meeting people, you don’t stop kissing babies and shaking hands, you don’t stop doing that. You kind of have to keep doing that if you want to be a business owner, right?
Pratik Shah (27:08):
Kris Mukherji (27:09):
You got to keep establishing those relationships regardless how long you’ve been in practice.
Pratik Shah (27:14):
Right. And I’ve had people ask me this, “Hey look, I’ve been in this for 10 years, 15 years, or I’m thinking about starting my own practice and I understand I got to go out and generate business, but after a certain point, after 10 years maybe I’ve got my establishment and then I don’t have to do that anymore.” And to that you say, “No, you’re wrong.”
Kris Mukherji (27:38):
I would say so. I mean look, the goal is to build a team of people that will be part of that networking. They’ll join BNI groups, they’ll join the tips, they’ll join other networking groups, and they’ll be able to build business. That’s the goal. But you are still going to be the face of your company. You are still the face of it. And you were what got the company started. And a lot of times my name is on the firm, so I want to be the face of the firm. I want to be the person that people can rely on, that they can connect with at that point. So you are always going to be the number one business generator of your practice.
Pratik Shah (28:17):
Yeah and you have to be.
Kris Mukherji (28:18):
You have to be.
Pratik Shah (28:21):
Sorry, I was just going to ask you, you and I have had this conversation a lot throughout the years because I know for you, you’ve made conscious decisions that were for less work, for less money because it was going to be more time with the family and the kids. And I want to talk about that because we’ve had so many guests on the podcast that talk about building a 50, 60 person practice and how much time and effort they put into that, and I know how different it was for you, and I think that’s really important, so tell me a little about your mindset. I know now you have two kids, and I see a lot of family trips and things like that. So tell me a little bit about that.
Kris Mukherji (29:00):
That was the goal. My goal was I want to be available for my son’s soccer games, his baseball games, his baseball practices. I want to be available for my daughter’s events. I want to take vacation with my family. That’s been my goal. I’m not working so that I can create this massive practice and have missed out in the first 10, 15, 20 years of my kids’ life. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted to be available for that. I coached my son’s baseball team last year. I take him to his baseball practices twice a week. I’m able to go to his soccer practice. I’m able to watch my daughter learn to dance. Those are the things that I care most about.
So it was a conscious choice to say, “Look, I can either use my skills now that I have 10 years into practice and go work for a bigger firm and see how much they pay. I doubt they’ll be able to match what I make now. Or I can go work for a midsize firm or I can team up with somebody else and build a practice but not have the quality of life that I do right now.” But what I enjoyed was the people that I grew up around in law school, like yourself and even watching Arthur and other people that they have very similar goals. They want to build a thriving practice, but they also understand that there’s a bigger picture out there, and we don’t want to give up on our families. We want to grow with the family. And I knew what my goal was, and I’ve kind of stuck to that overall. And the more power to people that have a different mindset. I’m all for that. Nothing wrong with that. My mindset was always based around family. Always.
Pratik Shah (30:30):
And that’s beautiful and I love that because there’s so many different ways to lead your life and control your life and especially when you’re deciding to run your own practice despite, hey, you started the practice, you come from sales, you know how to hustle, how to generate business. And you did all that, but you did all that with a purpose. You knew there was like a, “Hey look, if I get too busy or I get too big and I find myself missing stuff, I’m going to start referring clients out because it’s not just about generating more money at the end of the year.”
Kris Mukherji (31:01):
Look, anything you do, you have to find your why. You have to identify is. I remember when I was in strength and conditioning as a trainer, I used to ask people, “Why are you doing what you’re doing? You want to lose weight, you want to gain weight, you want to get healthy. Why?What is the reason behind that?” Unless you’re can identify the why, you’re never going to have a true goal to move forward to. So I had to first identify my why. And my why is always going to be my wife, my two kids. That’s just simple as that.
And I want to be able to take trips. I want to go to Hawaii. We love going to Hawaii, we go every year. And I want to do trips, I want to hang out with my family, I want to see my kids play. And those are important to me. I don’t want to be at work till 10 o’clock at night. Obviously sometimes I necessitate that if you’re prepping for a trial or something else. I get that. But the lifestyle that I’ve created for myself is one that allows me to be present for my children, and I enjoy that.
Pratik Shah (32:00):
Yeah. And in building that, in balancing those two, which is very difficult because as lawyers we’re known to work hard and really go kill for it. And I know you work hard, I’m not trying to say you don’t, but balancing those two, what do you think is the hardest thing or where are the frustrations have been for you in trying to balance those two?
Kris Mukherji (32:22):
There hasn’t been any because I’ve kind of turned off the dialogue from the outside, right? Look, law is a tough profession. We’ve had a friend that we lost last year to suicide earlier this year, so we know what happens. Law is a very, very tough profession, and it can be mentally and emotionally draining in a lot of people. So you have to figure out what you want out of it. And a lot of times if you’re trying to live up to the standards and expectations of others, you’re never going to do that. And I’ve been very good about kind of shutting out the dialogue from the outside and people’s expectations of what lawyers need to be and should be. And, “You got to work 80 hours a week if you’re working at a big firm.” “Well screw you. I’m not going to work at a big firm then.” I like the life that I have. I make damn good money. Knock on wood on that. I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the time I can spend with my family. And that to me is more valuable than anything else.
Pratik Shah (33:26):
The best analogy I heard for something like that, and the way I operate on Esquire Tech and different places is we play golf, we play tennis, not golf or excuse me, we play golf, not tennis. And what I mean by that is, in tennis, in order to win, you have to beat the other person. You’re competing against somebody else. And what they do affects you. In golf, it’s all just about what you do. I’m just trying to get the best score I can get regardless of what anybody else is doing. Yes, there’s other people playing, but it’s all on me, and I’m trying to hit a certain score. I’m not trying to hurt anybody or bring them down. And what they do doesn’t necessarily affect how I operate my game.
Kris Mukherji (34:03):
That’s a very good point because you are terrible at golf.
Pratik Shah (34:06):
I am terrible at both, golf and tennis. But I’m good at the analogy though. I got the analogy part down.
Kris Mukherji (34:13):
It’s a very good analogy and I agree with that. I’m not good at golf either. I just enjoy going out there and playing it. But you’re right, every time you go out there, you’re trying to beat your score, your best, or whatever you’re trying to do at that point. But that would be my thing. I’ll tell these young lawyers coming out, “Turn off the noise from outside. Figure out what is your why. Figure out where you want to be 5, 10, 15 years from now and find a way to get there without losing yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually.” That’s the most important thing, right? Because you don’t want to be 30 years down there figuring out, “Okay, now I want to gain all that back.” Because it’s going to be difficult to do that.
Pratik Shah (34:56):
Yeah. So with that, next question, what’s your vision for your own firm for the next 10 years? You’ve talked about maybe hiring somebody, maybe partnering, looking at different options. Where do you see yourself?
Kris Mukherji (35:09):
All those things are available right now. My PI practice is growing slowly. I enjoy, you and I talked about this, I really enjoy the PI part of it, and I think I enjoy the PI part of it a little bit more than I enjoy the business litigation part of it. So kind of figuring out what’s the best option. Do I team up with another attorney, PI lawyer who wants to grow the practice? But I also don’t want to give up the other part of my practice that I have as well. That kind of goes hand in hand. Cause a lot of those clients that I have from estate planning and business refer me PI clients. So those are long term relationships.
So it’s all open right now, and I’m kind of hoping that this next year will make things a little bit clearer. And I haven’t put myself out there saying, “Okay, what do I want to do? Do I want to bring people on board and just build my own practice? Or do you want to team up with somebody?” It’s a lot easier when you teamed up with somebody else versus trying to do it all by yourself, but it’s all available. We’ll see.
Pratik Shah (36:12):
Yeah, everything has its pros and cons, right? And it’s all about, like you said, what’s the goal 10 years from now? What’s the goal 15 years from now? And then what’s the clear path of getting there? And I think when we’re goal setting, which is super important, saying, “Hey, 10 years, 15 years, this is what I want. This is the lifestyle I want. This is the money I want to make and the range, this is kind of what I anticipate for what I want for my family.” But then working backwards and then saying, “Okay, well what do I got to do? Where should I be next year to be on pace to get there in 10 years?”
And I think it’s very easy to say, “Okay, 10 years I want to do this.” And then not think about it. And then in a year when you’re not there, people get disappointed and say, “Oh, well I didn’t hit my goals.” Well your goal is for 10 years from now, so don’t worry about hitting it in a year. But growing slowly, growing at a pace you want, understanding what you said earlier, that time and effort and money investment that happens early doesn’t pay off for a few years.
Kris Mukherji (37:12):
Right. You have to have actionable goals. So if your goal is, “Hey look, I want to make 2 million dollars gross in five years, whatever.” And you are at a million dollars right now. Well, you got to get from a million to 2 million and you got, I would say, divide that by five and figure out, “Okay, what’s the growth you have to make over the next two years? $200,000 per year.” Okay, well how do you get to that $200,000? Do you add a certain amount of estate planning clients? Do you add a certain amount of business clients? Do you add a certain amount of PI cases? Obviously you can get there with one PI case, but at least you have now an actionable goal to figure out this is a number that I have to increase by every year. What do I need to do to increase the amount of clients?
Now that may not be realistically for you to get there individually. So you may have to say, “Okay, you know what? I got to bring some people on board to capitalize on my strengths.” And that’s the other thing, you got to figure out what are truly your strengths? We know that when you start your own practice, you are the rainmaker, you’re the facilitator, you’re the technician. You are wearing all hats. But what are you really good at? And I’ve always been good at rainmaking, right? Do I want to give that up to be a technician? Probably not, right? Because I bring in the bread and butter. So does that mean that now I need to hire good technicians? Probably. That I can continue to go and rain make and bring that on board.
Pratik Shah (38:32):
I don’t. And by technician you mean the person to do the actual legal work, right?
Kris Mukherji (38:35):
Yeah. Look, there’s some people that would prefer to be in the office, talk to the adjusters or draft the state plans, draft the business documents. They would prefer to do that as opposed to go out there network. And they may be great at that, they may be great at the in-office technical stuff. Don’t change that. Let them continue to be great at that, right? Capitalize on that while you capitalize on being what you’re good at, which is rain making. Or if you start building a staff, you might need somebody to facilitate within that, somebody to delegate responsibilities. So you just have to figure out what your strengths are and work with that.
Pratik Shah (39:11):
I love that. I love that. Okay. Let me ask you this question. I always ask everybody this question because I love the variety of answers I’ve gotten. So Kris, you’ve given a lot of advice to lawyers out there that want to start their own practice, and I know you’ve mentored a lot of young lawyers, you’ve had your own mentors, but if you could go back in time 10 years and tell your younger self, Kris, exactly, Kris, not just some random young lawyer, you could tell Kris something. What would you tell Kris?
Kris Mukherji (39:44):
I’d learn to say no. I tell this to all young lawyers that I meet, “Learn to say no.” I’m glad I learned that early on, so I learned that lesson in my first second year. But learn to say no. I know you’re coming out of law school, and you’re desperate to take every case that comes on your table, but not every case will be good for your growth and for your business because that case that you take on that your body tells you not to take on, your mind tells you not to take on, may be the case that might ruin law for you, might ruin the idea of having you on practice for you. It almost did it to me. So learn to say no.
Pratik Shah (40:23):
Wow. That’s great. Let’s end on that. That was fantastic. Kris, thank you so much for being on. Thank you for everybody for listening or watching. We’ll see you on the next episode of Bootstrapped Solo. And remember, just because guys like Kris Mukherji make it look easy, doesn’t mean that it is. And our one ask for all of you that are listening and watching, if you’ve enjoyed the pod, please share where you share stuff, whether it’s Instagram, TikTok, whatever. We can only grow because you guys share, and we appreciate that. Kris, if you don’t mind sharing your Instagram or website, where can people find you?
Kris Mukherji (40:55):
All right, so the website is kmsdlawoffice.com. My first name, Kris Mukherji SD law office.com. You can find us on Facebook at Law Office of Kris Mukherji. You can find us on Instagram Law Office of Kris Mukherji, Twitter Law Office of Kris Mukherji. Yeah.
Pratik Shah (41:15):
Thank you so much. Thank you so much, everybody. Have a good day. We’ll see you on the next episode of Bootstrapped Solo.
Kris Mukherji (41:20):