Episode 13 – Sheela Murthy: The Incredible Power of Giving Everything Away

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Sheela Murthy

Sheela Murthy

Founder and President, The Murthy Law Firm

When Sheela Murthy launched her firm in 1994, her husband Vasant Nayak, a digital artist, told her the Internet would change the world. He encouraged her to go online and share her knowledge freely. Despite initial doubts, she spent hours each day answering every immigration question posted on the 10,000-member Indian News Network. It didn’t take long until the phone started ringing and today, the firm has grown to nearly 100 employees. Sharing knowledge is embedded in the culture: Murthy.com is the world’s most visited law firm site.

Full Interview Transcript

Michael: My guest today is Sheela Murthy, the founder and president of the Murthy Law Firm, a U.S. immigration law practice. The Murthy Law Firm is a fantastic case study in the power of thought leadership and content marketing, and focusing first on the needs of the client as an effective approach to building a strong firm. Thank you for joining me, Sheela.

Sheela: Thank you so much, Michael, for giving me this opportunity.

Michael: You bet. Man, a lot going on on your website.

Sheela: Yes, it’s still considered apparently the world’s most popular legal website.

Michael: Right.

Sheela: And so in spite of not having thousands and thousands of attorneys and staff, I guess it’s a testament to this great nation and to people wanting to live their great American dream of coming to this most successful nation on earth, people from all across the globe. And the fact that we do care about updating the information, having valuable, cutting-edge, useful, practical information that both employers and employees can take advantage of and use to help them and their companies grow.

Michael: Right. In just observing what you have there, it’s clear that you’re creating a resource for people, not just a marketing brochure, as it were.

Sheela: Right. It’s all about helping somebody else. If I help you to become happier and more successful and to accomplish your dreams, and in the bargain, it helps my firm and my team get exciting, fascinating, challenging, and variety of work from across the globe, then that’s the classic win-win. That’s our goal, is to create win-win partnerships for people.

I always talk about happy…the best relations, the best marriages are where both sides think they have a great deal in a relationship. Same thing with the best employer and employee where both sides think, “Wow, I got a really great lawyer,” or boss that one could only wish and pray for and dream of getting. And I feel like that about our team and our staff here, that I am so lucky and blessed to have the most awesome, caring, dedicated, hardworking people that appreciate and understand our vision and our mission. And we make it a point to spend time and invest time in sharing my vision and mission for the firm with every single new staff member and with existing staff members on an ongoing basis.

Michael: Okay. You know what would be cool? Let’s go back, let’s go to the beginning. I know you founded the firm in 1994, but tell us what led you to that point? Why did you do that?

Sheela: So there were two main…I always talk about the pull and push in starting a firm. The pull is the desire to leave a lasting legacy and make an impact. The push, for me, was not being happy at the firm that I was at because like most law firms, attorneys, we tend to be a little intense and annoying. And by the way, I was going to get that when I started my firm as well.

And so I wasn’t really happy at the different law firms I worked at, even though I learned a lot. They were very good firms, very reputable, top-notch. I learned my craft, I learned to be a better lawyer, I learned how to interact with people, both good and bad, but I was not happy. And so being unhappy where I was and being driven to do something to help others accomplish their great American dream of living and working in this country and me providing that vehicle with a great, dedicated, compassionate, caring team, I thought was the way to go.

Michael: So were you practicing immigration law at that time before starting the firm or in another area?

Sheela: So I was focusing initially in corporate law, then real estate law, and then started immigration law. But the immigration component kept growing slowly but surely but it really didn’t explode because I, like most law firms with the focus on the billable hour, I didn’t really have the time because I was working long hours from early morning till late in the evening to really sit and focus till I started my own law firm. And as luck would have it, the Internet was just starting to explode at the same time.

So we were one of the first law firms on the Internet, certainly one of the first immigration law firms. But immigration law firms actually have been way ahead of the rest of the law firms in terms of having a website presence and marketing because it is federal law and under the Doctrine of Preemption, states cannot interfere with immigration laws. And so immigration law firms have been a fantastic…provide a very good opportunity to market via the Internet and through websites.

Michael: Right. It’s just a broader audience, I presume.

Sheela: Absolutely. And it’s a global audience.

Michael: Do you have a sense what the split is of people who are finding you from outside the U.S. versus people who are already here?

Sheela: Outside the U.S., maybe 10, 20%. But listen, even the ones hiring us…but using our services, going to our website, I think there are people who before they come to the U.S., look at our website. Whether they are in Australia or Europe or Asia or Africa, they look at it, they’re knowledgeable, and then they finally need an immigration lawyer to process their case…when I speak to people, I’m often told, “I’ve actually been using your website for years before I actually decided to even hire you or consult with you.”

Michael: That’s an interesting dynamic. When you started the firm, tell me about those first couple years. What was the growth like in terms of just the size of the practice, hiring people, that sort of thing.

Sheela: Okay, so this firm started with I, me, and myself alone. I was the only employee when I first started. I started working from an executive office suite so that I had phone answering services and I could sublease the space, so I had access to their fax machines, and photocopy machines. They would charge a lot, like a huge markup, but it was still worth it because I didn’t know how quickly or how I’m going to grow.

As the website was getting more and more popular, the phone kept ringing off the hook to the extent that they almost felt that I was occupying…like, my phone calls were occupying a majority of the time, that I was a solo individually. And so then I started hiring a full-time assistant because, to answer the phones for me. First, it was like one part-time employee, then one full-time employee. Then it was two paralegals, then four paralegals, then four became eight paralegals, and eight became sixteen paralegals. And by the time we were 16, then I think I hired my first attorney at that point, so that was the second lawyer in the firm.

So then from 16, we became 32. So we kept growing and at each point, I would say, “I’m done, I’m done, I’m done. I don’t want to grow anymore. I’m very happy with the size we are.” And when we were a little under 50, I thought, “This is it. I’m done with this whole thing.” But then the demand kept growing and I thought, “God, I really like the idea of helping more people, doing a great job at a very competitive and reasonable fee, and it’s growing so organically. Why would I shut it out and tell clients, ‘I don’t want to use you’?” One simple way could have been to continue to increase the fees and then cut back on the number of clients I could serve anyway.

But the idea of really impacting and changing people’s lives, and doing a great job for people at a very affordable fee just was very exciting for me. For me, helping people accomplish their dream and helping them to get their immigration paperwork…and a lot of times, many of the cases we process are denials or goof-ups from other law firms and lawyers across the country where they’ve made mistakes, where they’ve missed deadlines, where they didn’t argue issues that really, it’s somebody that is doing immigration law really should appreciate and understand the complexities and nuances of immigration law.

But a lot of people think, “Oh, immigration, it’s a bunch of forms. I can fill it out myself.” When in complexity, it’s been compared to federal securities laws and tax laws on many levels. And so we could have stopped growing, but you know what? I let it grow organically. We’ve really tried hard not to just explode. I’ve been invited over the years setting up operations in different parts of the country, including in the West Coast, in San Francisco and Silicon Valley over 20 years ago. In Texas, about six, seven, eight years ago when I was there speaking to a lot of companies. They even offered to give me free leasing space just to have a presence.

But it’s so difficult to just want to spread ourselves thin because we’re headquartered here in Maryland. We serve clients across the U.S. and across the world. So we have a Seattle office now, but it’s not a huge office. So we’re growing very slowly and organically, we’re trying not to…because at the end of the day, our goal is still to continue to provide outstanding service.

Michael: How important do you think growth is to creating opportunities for people who work at your firm to have personal and career advancement growth?

Sheela: I think it’s very important. I think most ambitious people…I don’t care if they’re secretaries, administrative staff, paralegals, attorneys…they all want to feel like there is progression. And it’s not just money. Sometimes it’s a combination of money with a title, with opportunities for growth, in terms of feeling like they are extremely valued.

That’s the other thing. Most law firms and lawyers have a horrendous reputation for not appreciating our support staff. And I think it is so important to try to individually thank them. Certainly in group meetings whenever we have events. We have several events to honor and celebrate milestones, whether it’s employees’ anniversary years. We actually give very nice bonuses every five years to people just for being at the firm five years at a time, on top of all their other raises and salaries and bonuses, which is almost unheard of. We do the same thing with year-end Christmas bonuses or holiday bonuses.

And we use opportunities to thank people and thank people for their hard work and dedication and attention to detail. Because if you’re not good, when people make a mistake, we lawyers jump all over them. I think most business owners, entrepreneurs, we’re very tough and tolerate very little when things go wrong. But when things go right, we never make it a point to say, “Atta girl,” or, “Atta boy,” which is I think almost as much…you need positive reinforcement to feel energized and motivated to do a good job.

Michael: Right. Can you talk about…how did you come to that point? Did you always have that philosophy or did that evolve over time?

Sheela: Well, like every person who’s ever run a business or done anything…what do they say? The knocks of life, the hard knocks of reality, sometimes. So in the first few years after I had started my firm when I had only four paralegals, three out of the four left me within a span of maybe a few weeks. And while I really wanted to think it was their fault and their problem and they couldn’t handle the intensity…because it’s so much easier to blame others than ourselves…at some point, I had to acknowledge that I became that monster. That horrible boss that nobody ever wants to work with. The bosses I fled from and didn’t want to work with because of the intensity and expectation that they would work a zillion hours, slave away, and never get any appreciation or recognition for their efforts.

And so it was like a big bucket of cold water and I thought, “I’m glad this happened, I’m going to learn from this.” And I rolled up my sleeves, I tried to do the work of four people by myself, like all good business people who know that, “You know what? I’ve taken the client cases. Now I just have to deliver.” And aggressively was doing the interviewing on nights and on the weekends so that we could replace those people.

And I tried to behave like a more normal and sane human being. And it always helps to have a spouse or a partner or somebody in your team that will, I think…who you can trust, who will tell you that, “Hey, maybe you’re falling off the precipice. Maybe you’re going off the deep end, honey. You really need to kind of chill a little.” And so I had to realize that I had to be a little more…my expectations needed to be toned down. I could still appreciate people and expect the highest levels from them without them feeling that they were just another pawn. That I just needed another dispensable, fungible product.

Michael: Right. So now with the benefit of these years of experience since then, you can look back on it and really understand that. But how long did it take you to get to that understanding? Was it immediate? You were there by yourself and you just kind of thought it through for an hour? Or did it take months, weeks, or longer?

Sheela: I think it’s taken months and weeks and years and I tell you this, I still don’t know that I’m perfect at that. At being the soft, kind, sensitive…I’m still not somebody that people can easily come to, to cry on my shoulder. I just am not. I think most of us, as business owners and entrepreneurs and leaders, sometimes we are so busy trying to accomplish the goals, meeting the deadlines, juggling a gazillion things, that it’s very difficult for us to have or take that time to do something like that.

Michael: So in the context of the organization as it’s grown, are there other people who perform that role for you?

Sheela: Yes. So we’ve obviously hired people as the firm has continued to grow. So we have a whole bunch…we have a law firm, sort of an administrator. We have a head office manager. We have an HR assistant. I have a managing attorney and three assistant managing attorneys in my firm who are primarily responsible for the legal and administrative operations at our firm.

Michael: Okay. So I guess you have close to 100 employees, about 20 attorneys, right? Were there significant points, as the firm grew, where the way that you were operating just stopped working because the headcount had grown? Were there times where you had to just make meaningful shifts in the way you operated…call them inflection points…and what were they?

Sheela: So you’re absolutely right. When I was the attorney initially by myself of the first almost five years of starting the firm because I’m so fiscally very conservative and I was very nervous about just bringing on a whole bunch of attorneys and then saying, “There’s no work for you.” So I erred on the side…the other extreme of trying to do a whole lot of work on my own. And the way I was interacting with them and delegating work and creating teams…so one of the tips that I picked up from working at the large law firms was creating teams or departments within the firm.

So in our firm for example, we have the H1B or nonimmigrant department. We have the immigrant department for green card cases. We have special projects for unusual, unique appeals, motions cases. Then we have the admin team, the accounting team. So each department is now headed by its own coordinator or supervisor in charge with somebody who’s second-in-command and then other members in the team. Creating now members…since we’re a sub-chapter S corporation, we don’t have partners but we have members.

And so we’ve created, right now there are non-equity members who are running different teams and departments within the firm that are responsible for managing the teams, dealing with employee issues, and working with the HR and with the office manager and all of the other support staff that we have in the admin team to make things happen.

So for the first many, many years, I didn’t have HR, I didn’t have any people because I was of course Superwoman that was going to do everything on my own. Until at some point, it was like, “Okay, we need people to create systems and processes, create a handbook.” I did all that initially without having anybody, but then at some point, it started to make sense to have somebody full-time available to do that work.

Michael: Right. That was your first transition, is bringing folks in to take some of the tasks off of your plate. I was curious, too, if there was maybe somewhere around 50, if there was another shift that was required.

Sheela: So we held on to the bill of 50 for a really long time. Because I think there are additional federal and state laws that impact you when you cross 50 and we were like, “We don’t want to deal with this.” So we stayed with that for, I’m going to say, a long time. I don’t remember, but it must have been at least a year or two years or three years. A fairly long time till finally we were like, “This is such an artificial, ridiculous way to do business. You know what? If we’re going to grow organically, let’s just deal with it. We’ll figure it out.” And so we continued to grow. And honestly I thought 50, 60, maybe 70, and then it became 80 and before I knew it, it was 90. It is what it is.

Michael: That’s so funny. We did the same thing. We were really…for some reason, the number in my head is 55. We were really locked in on that. And then once we went through it, it just seemed like almost immediately we were another 20 above that. It’s like that pressure just was released.

Sheela: This is you doing only one area of the law?

Michael: Yeah. So the firm that I was executive director at was California Workers’ Comp Defense.

Sheela: Okay. Wow. Nice.

Michael: Workers’ comp is big business in California. It’s not the case in a lot of states, but it is out there.

Sheela: And Maryland has a fairly active thing…in fact, I think one of my plates here says, “Injured Workers’ Insurance Fund and Workers’ Comp,” yep, “Workers’ Compensation Insurance.” I live in Maryland. We have our own things in Maryland that’s similar.

Michael: I wanted to ask you, I saw that you have been producing a podcast going all the way back to 2012, something like that. And of course, you have the blog posts that are content-rich. You’re really talking about what the issues are out there. What’s your strategy for, number one, just producing all that content? I presume, is there a team that’s helping you do that? Or are you doing all the…because I understand you need to know those issues to practice.

Sheela: No, we have committees for everything. So we have teams, we have departments, and we have committees. So we have a podcast committee, we have a monthly teleconference for all our employer clients, so we have a teleconference committee. We have articles that we update and post obviously on the website on a daily basis, weekly basis. We have monthly free teleconference calls for employers. So we go through hot issues, latest developments and changes in the law.

So we have teams that work together and I usually act as the moderator for many of these teleconferences or meetings. But if I’m traveling, somebody else can do it. I just enjoy helping and educating, and public speaking has been one of my core competencies and strengths, and I enjoy sharing information and knowledge and advice and throwing in some additional advice, which sometimes doesn’t have anything to do with immigration law, which many clients appreciate because when they know you are taking care of them as individuals, as human beings with families and problems and difficulties that you appreciate and can empathize with, I think it gives us a human and humane face.

It’s just not another number or case or file for me. All of this is people’s lives and they’re entrusting their lives in our hands and so we need to be worthy of that trust and respect that our clients are giving us. And we need to reciprocate and exceed their trust by serving them in an exceptional manner.

Michael: Right. So what’s your sense of why people engage with the content? I presume when an individual has a specific problem, they might find your website in a search to solve a problem. But why are people maybe subscribing to a podcast? What do they get out of that? Are these individuals, are they employers? Who do you think is primarily paying attention to that?

Sheela: I think it depends. It’s usually I think individuals who want to learn something, but it very well could be HR people, especially with smaller to mid-size companies that initially can’t afford to hire maybe a full-time lawyer or in-house counsel or can’t afford…need to understand to be able to interact with their outside immigration counsel, that need to understand the terms and terminology and understand the landscape of what immigration law is.

And so they end up listening to a lot of these podcasts and we have several hundreds of people some months, and some months anywhere from 50 to 100, 150 employers each month attempt to participate in our teleconferences, teleconference calls. And we have I think around 80,000 people that have subscribed to our weekly multi-bulletin.

Michael: That’s an e-mail bulletin?

Sheela: These are e-mail bulletins. And we do not send it out to you or anybody, even if you get your e-mail, you have to click in, log in, sign up, and ask for it. So even an existing client that may be a client, if they don’t ask us, we don’t spam you with that information.

Michael: Have you ever had anyone tell you that they started doing business with you because they found you through the podcast?

Sheela: You know, I know that people have said to me, “I’ve used your website extensively. I’ve gone on your website, on Murthy.com.” Sometimes people actually say, “I’m hiring Murthy.com.” They don’t even say Murthy Law Firm. So they don’t specifically say podcast or the teleconference, but I’ve been to public seminars, like open places and say, “How many of you are signed up for the free monthly teleconference that’s available for employers?” And sometimes, 10, 20, 30% of the audience will raise their hand, depending on if it’s a technology company audience.

Michael: That’s awesome. So do you have any suggestions for law firm leaders who haven’t yet figured out how to present themselves as thought leaders? It’s a different landscape today than when you started in ’94. How does someone get out there and make a name for themselves?

Sheela: So how to be a thought leader, that’s an even broader and bigger question than just how to run a law firm effectively or run a business. I think to be a leader in any area, we have to know our strengths and know our weaknesses. Downplay our weaknesses, find others in our team that can offset or complement us with our strengths and downplay our weaknesses, acknowledge where we clearly fall short. And I think many business owners, entrepreneurs, are certainly…sometimes with law firms and lawyers, sometimes our egos get in the way of our ability to really serve other people and to have humility.

I often tell my staff…and I truly believe this…that from the client’s perspective, I don’t care how much you know unless I know how much you care. And so the idea of caring and empathy and taking care of people, of being knowledgeable and brilliant and on top of our game, that goes without saying. If you don’t have our knowledge, you don’t know your craft, if you’re not a good wood maker, stop trying to sell wooden toys, you know?

We need to be really good, but well above and beyond that, to be a thought leader, to run, to make a name a name for ourselves, go out there, hustle, speak at conferences, do all of the traditional things that have worked. But also go out there and see, where is the next opportunity to try and make headway? “Which organization can I join that might open doors for me?” And sometimes and especially in the beginning, a lot of it will be freebies that we have to provide before you start seeing the returns on your investment, on your time investment.

And I think most of us as law firms and lawyers tend to be very impatient because we’re so used to the billable hour and getting compensated immediately, that we don’t like that big time-lag that exists in business. And initially luckily when I started, I could afford to and invested a huge amount of time, effort, and energy giving away free information, free advice. Everything that we’re doing is still free for people, but what that has done has made us into this world leader in the field of U.S. immigration law with very little to no competition that is truly considered at this highest level of knowledge.

There is another law firm that is larger, but I don’t know that practically any other lawyer or group of lawyers is regarded with such great respect and admiration for solving complex cases. They get it because their size, because they’re located all over the country and can represent the large companies, but nobody thinks of any of these law firms necessarily as being brilliant or thought leaders or creative or tough or being able to handle cases in a very systematic, organized, and effective manner.

We’ve also invested several millions of dollars in our own in-house proprietary software. Almost nobody else in the country has invested exclusively just for them and their team. And this is something we’re very proud of. It’s very agile, we can work with our clients, we can tweak it and update it. And it works with our systems and it’s fully integrated with accounting, with technology, with software, with incorporating documents, with keeping attorney notes.

So we’ve tried to do every single thing that we can to provide the client fantastic service at a very reasonable fee. So what’s to argue with somebody not wanting to be successful and happy and feeling a sense of fulfillment and joy in taking care of the client?

Michael: Yes. Well, I wanted to ask you, too…1994, what gave you the insight to invest that time and energy? Now it’s maybe a more obvious approach, but…

Sheela: Back then?

Michael: Yeah.

Sheela: So I’m smart. I know my limitations? Remember I told you that?

Michael: Yeah.

Sheela: I think you are really smart when you know how dumb you are. And I think on many levels, I know I’m dumb and with technology I am actually really dumb. And people think just because we have the world’s most popular legal website, that I’m this Miss Techno-Gadget, Miss Internet herself, or Miss Website, especially in the law firm legal arena. But in fact what I don’t know could fill libraries and rooms.

And my being brilliant was listening to my husband, who was one of the first faculty members that started this technology and Internet program at the Maryland Institute College of Art. And he said the Internet is going to change the way we look at this world. It’s give away free information, and I was like, “Give away free information? That is ridiculous.” And he was like, “Don’t worry about it. Just share the knowledge, share the information.”

And there was this organization called the Indian News Network that, back in 1994, ’95, had 10,000 members. And so all of them would throw questions at me and I would answer all of their questions, give them very detailed, accurate, useful information all for free as I was learning my craft, learning to use the Internet, learning to type on the computer. Because before that, I would dictate on the computer and have the secretary or the assistant transmit the information for me or transcribe the information for me.

Michael: Got it. So you were answering questions in this forum, posting them on your own website. Well, that’s interesting, too, that you developed your own technology platform. Did he play a part in that as well?

Sheela: Yes. My husband has been integral and continues to play a very important role, even though he doesn’t work necessarily full-time, but he does monitor. He loves the technology, he loves the creativity part. He was a creative artist and he’s very practical and is just bright. I don’t know that if someone’s starting off a law firm today, that they could hire somebody full-time just to help them, to give them ideas.

But find friends, find…if you don’t, family members, somebody who…there are lots of college kids that would love to make extra money if you don’t have the money to hire somebody full-time. Get them to start working with you in a manner that will grow your business and make your website more popular. Work with companies that will at least get you to a certain place. And then once the money starts coming in, hopefully you can hire professionals full-time to take care of it.

Michael: Got it. Are there any other thoughts that come to mind on this topic of building a firm on a foundation of excellence? Anything maybe that I didn’t ask you about, but suggestions that you might have?

Sheela: Building a firm on a foundation of excellence? Everything…we kind of touched on this, but we didn’t delve into it in great detail. No firm is ever run by the thought leader or by the founder or by the president or the CEO, the managing partner, or the whatever. It has to be with a team and we need to bring the teams along with us in a manner to inspire and motivate them to serve with excellence, to look at the bigger picture and stop looking at this as just another paycheck. Because if it’s just another good job with a good paycheck, they’re going to be gone.

Our ability to inspire, motivate, and excite people to buy into our vision and our mission is critical to the success of any organization because the troops on the ground that are interacting with the client and getting a lot of the work done need to appreciate and feel valued and need to understand the role that they are playing, because every cog in that wheel can make a difference in the speed at which that wheel will go and progress.

Michael: Can you give me an example of a specific action that you’ve taken with an intent to inspire?

Sheela: Okay. So that’s when I started saying that I have regular meetings and I make time and carve time out of a very busy day to meet the staff and have vision mission statement meetings where we analyze it. We could hire outside experts to do it, but I’ve watched other experts, I’ve watched people, and I learned it and nothing like the story coming from the founder of the firm explaining the vision, the mission, what it is.

I make them look at it and I ask them, “What is it? Why do you wake up every morning and come to work? What excites you about coming here? What is it that we are not listening to you and providing challenges? How can we make this work better for you? Please let’s keep the lines of communication open all the time, so you know that as the founder of the firm, I always have time for you because you are the reason I am successful and our team is successful.”

And continuously keeping that line of communication open, bringing in new people and empowering them and sharing my story and my life and why I started the firm, all of those I think are extremely important in making a difference.

Michael: Something I read, I think it was in your New York Times profile article.

Sheela: It’s a wonderful half-page…

Michael: Yeah, that was pretty cool. I think I read in there that you ask new employees what their ideal job looks like.

Sheela: That is true. One of the questions we ask them when they interview with us is, “Describe your dream job that would have you excited to come to work, rush in to work every morning.” Then I’d say to them, “I’m not going to guarantee that I’ll give that to you, but I’ll give you as many of those issues that you say you’d love to do.” So for example, if the attorney says, “I love to sit in a corner and just churn out because I love writing,” I’ll give you much more of the writing and very little of the phone calls.

And then there’s others who say, “You know what? I will do the writing, I don’t enjoy writing, but I love interacting and interfacing with the clients. I like strategizing, I love chatting with them, talking to them, dealing with them.” Well, you’re going to be doing a lot more of that.

Same thing with the support staff. If people say, “I like to be organized,” then you’ll be in charge of an admin team that’s organizing more of the stuff. If you say, “I like to be on the phone,” then you’ll have more of the phone responsibilities. So we do try to create people’s dream jobs because then, they’re not just coming for the paycheck. They’re coming because they feel valued, they feel a sense of purpose, they’ve bought into our mission and now they’re doing what they inherently, hopefully enjoy doing.

Michael: Yes. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. I’ve not really heard much of that out there. I have more of a sense that the work-flow in law firms is such that people want to make everything modular. So every job is the same, right? And you can put anyone from one desk to another and the systems are all the same. Does your willingness to…

Sheela: That would work perfectly for a machine, to replace a person. When we deal with human beings, we have to be sensitive. So you can have the same concepts, but you can give people the opportunity to blossom and flourish within those modules. So they may have to take care of certain of the tasks, but then they’re getting to leave their fingerprint on each task that they do.

Michael: Does that create challenges that you have to manage around because you’ve got people sort of like, “Hey, I’m only the writing person here,” you know?

Sheela: Rather than looking at them as challenges, I’ve always said, “Whenever life gives you lemons, turn them into lemonade.” And so I actually think it’s an incredible strength for us. Someone says, “Hey, I just want to sit and write.” “Okay, are you sure? How much do you love it?” “I love it a lot.” “Okay, you’re going to be doing it 90% of the time.” And so, “Hey, I don’t like to be writing all day long. I’m happy to give all of my writing assignments to X, Y, and Z who love writing.”

So we try to create a harmonious team where each person’s strengths are utilized to the fullest extent that can be worked out within the teams and each person’s weaknesses are downplayed to the extents possible, and what they love doing. Because I might have a strength with writing, but if I don’t like writing, then I’m not going to give that to you.

Michael: Yeah. No, that makes sense. Sheela, congratulations. It’s an awesome firm and you’ve accomplished a lot and I really appreciate your spending the time today to share your insights.

Sheela: It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much, Michael, for giving me the opportunity to be included in this and good luck as you continue your project. Go out there and shake up the world and let’s share our collectivism to make organizations stronger and better and more successful so that the country and the world will partake in the prosperity that we all generate for a happier and better world.

Michael: I love it. That’s awesome.

Key Links

Show Notes

  • How the firm created the world’s most popular legal website [0:43]
  • Why she started the firm in 1994 [2:55]
  • Being told by clients that they relied on Murthy.com for years before coming to the U.S. [5:40]
  • The early years of the firm [6:40]
  • Sheela was reluctant to grow the firm but found that impacting and changing people’s lives was gratifying [8:00]
  • The growth of the firm creates opportunities for the employees [10:30]
  • Thanking people for hard work, including giving a five-year bonus [11:10]
  • Sheela wasn’t always cognizant of the importance of recognizing employees’ contributions [12:25]
  • Coming to terms with the understanding that she had to change, not her employees [12:40]
  • The importance of having someone on your team that you can trust to tell you when you’re going off the deep end [14:00]
  • Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and hiring others to fill in the gaps [15:00]
  • How Sheela’s fiscally conservative perspective suppressed the growth of the firm [16:46]
  • Organizing the firm into departments [17:12]
  • Adding in administrative functions [17:30]
  • How the firm creates a monthly podcast and new articles consistently [20:40]
  • Why do people come to the website? Why do they find value in the content? [22:54]
  • Building the audience to MurthyBulletin email newsletter to over 80,000 recipients [23:30]
  • What does it take to be a “thought leader”? [23:35]
  • Clients don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care [26:30]
  • The importance of giving before getting; of investing before seeing a return [27:10]
  • Investing millions of dollars in building a proprietary software system [28:50]
  • The goal of all their systems: providing the client fantastic service at a very reasonable fee [29:18]
  • Why Sheela invested so much time and energy in providing free information at the start of her firm [29:40]
  • The power of relying on a fiercely creative individual (her husband) in building a unique firm [31:45]
  • No firm is ever run solely by the leader; it requires building the team [32:50]
  • The founder has a special power to inspire and share the vision for the firm [33:15]
  • Asking new employees to design their ideal jobs [35:10]