Episode 1 – Albert Stark: Building Stark & Stark into a 130+ Attorney Firm

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Albert Stark

Albert Stark

Former Managing Partner, Stark & Stark

Albert Stark joined Stark & Stark in 1968 when the firm’s only attorneys were his father and uncle. They weren’t interested in growing the firm—but he was. They give him free reign though, so Albert (and the partners who joined along the way) grew the firm into a regional powerhouse, with 130 attorneys today.

Full Interview Transcript

Michael: My guest today is Albert Stark, shareholder and member of the Accident & Personal Injury Group at Stark & Stark. It’s a 130-attorney firm with 6 offices in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, and clients in all 50 states. Albert’s also the author of “Beyond the Bar: Challenges In a Lawyer’s Life”, “Insider Secrets to Winning Your Personal Injury Battle – A Seasoned Trial Lawyer Reveals All,” and “A War Against Terror Through My Lens.” I’m really excited to talk to Albert, because he has a lot of wisdom to share and I’m looking forward to his perspective on how he built an awesome law firm. So, thanks for joining me, Albert.

Albert: You’re welcome, Michael. I’m anxious to be with you because I read your book and it was probably one of the best downloads that I’ve seen on the internet that can help a lawyer.

Michael: That’s awesome. Thank you. Well, just to set some context, the firm has grown a lot in the time that you’ve been with it. Can you tell us about sort of the beginnings of the firm? Where was it at when you first got involved?

Albert: Well, my dad and my uncle practiced since before the war. They were basically a two-brother family firm that did what in those days was small corporate work and collections. Then, I came back to Trenton in 1964, working with Governor Richard Hughes. Then, I went on to be Assistant City Attorney, because I was interested in urban development. Then, I got into trial law as an assistant prosecutor until 1968 when I resigned, frankly after seeing policeman lie and the cops beat the Yippies at the Chicago Convention in 1968.

Then, being a father of one and with another one on the way, I had to make a living. So I sort of sat down with my father and my uncle and I said, “Dad, Uncle, what kind of advice can you give me?” To this day, it was the best advice, Michael, that anybody has given me. Over the period in the last 50 years, everybody who has joined me in the practice, I’ve repeated the same 12 things that a challenged lawyer faces. Frankly, what my father and my uncle said to me was, “A dozen dos that you have to do are to seek advice from experienced lawyers, to befriend those who can help you navigate the legal system, to take advantage of the opportunity to generate work from everyone you meet. Be aware of the flaws of the legal system, as well as your adversary’s. Trust the jury system, even with its flaws, and try everyday to put together a winning team. Be ethical, no matter what,” which I’ll never forget.

“And see the law as an art. Not as it’s a science and not always fair. Know that short cross-examinations in court are more powerful than prolonged ones,” which I’ve learned and had it proved to me over and over. “Be aware of the professional expert. Always ask questions no matter how experienced you are. And your biggest job is to find a niche that’s right for you.” Finding the niche that’s right for you, I think, is the most important thing for young lawyers, middle-aged lawyers and even experienced lawyers. Because you can’t leave your passion in the parking lot. If you’re doing something that you don’t like, you have to really reexamine yourself and get on with your job, which is to find the niche which is right for you. Which makes the law a profession and fulfilling.

Michael: So what was the context? So obviously, you’ve codified that advice, I presume, over the years. Was it just like, “Hey, how do I start my career?” Or was there a precipitating event? What started that conversation if you can recall?

Albert: In September of 1968, I had rent to pay. I had childcare to pay and I had no job. My father and my uncle, they were very satisfied with what they were doing. They never expected me to join Stark & Stark, because they didn’t do trial work. I had to start going out and getting cases. I started out actually going to the municipal courts at night with petty crime and traffic tickets, and if courtrooms were filled, I’d get up there and I’d say, “My name is Albert Stark, from the law firm of Stark & Stark.” Oftentimes, at the end of the night there’d be a group of people waiting for me, “Can you help me? Can you help me?”

I would take on some cases pro bono. I would take them on maybe for $25, $10, whatever they could pay. One thing led to another, and I got a call one day from a fellow who I had worked with during the summer at a tennis court, who was seriously injured. I went to see Big Ed in the hospital and he said to me, “I’ve got this situation,” and I didn’t know what to do. So I went to two of the best personal injury trial lawyers in the area and they said, “We can’t take that case. You can’t win it.” So, Ed says, “Albert, you’ve got to do this for me. You’ve got to do this for me.”

So I took on the case and back in 1970 I got the first six-figure verdict in the area of Central New Jersey, and it got a lot of press. The next thing I knew, it was one case after another and then I needed an associate. So, I knew this fellow who had graduated a few years after me, and we went out to lunch and I did my first strategic plan. I asked him what he wanted to do and he said he wanted to make $50,000 in three years. I said, “Okay.” At that time, I was making $6,250.

I said, “Yeah. If you don’t make $50,000 in three years, I’m not for you and you’re not for me.” We shook hands after saying two things, “The two heads will be better than one, and if we have the same bed and the same dream we’re going to succeed.” That fellow and I, David, became partners and we were partners for 48 years until he retired. Then, last year after I completed 50 years, I became semi-active. Because handling serious injury cases, I couldn’t represent to a client that I’d be there four years from now. But by then, I had mentored and developed a team that does a better job than I ever did.

Michael: Sure. No, that’s awesome. So, you had a place to work, but you were on your own. And built the firm to over 130 lawyers these years later.

Albert: Well, it wasn’t all with me. Because the interesting thing is in 1998 we had grown, it was David and myself, and another gentleman that we became the triumvirate, the benevolent dictators. As the firm grew, we met some challenges and I went and hired an outside consultant, like you.

The consultant came in and he had a yellow pad, and he gave me a yellow pad and he said, “Write down all of the things that you do that’s your job.” I started writing down everything that I did on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis. I handed him the yellow pad, and he didn’t even read it. He took off the top page and he tore it up. I said to him, “Chuck, what are you doing?” He says, “You wrote down what your work is. Your job is to find your successors. Because if you want to build a law firm, you’ve got to find people who have the ability to lead, and you have to train them. You have to be prepared to give up power, because the more power you give up to good people the more powerful you become.” When that happened in 1988 that was really a turning point for the firm.

Michael: Can I ask, how big was the firm at that time?

Albert: We had nine lawyers.

Michael: Okay. So, how would you just describe the energy or the perspective of the firm in that one to nine attorneys phase, and then what has come since?

Albert: Well, the interesting thing is when there were three of us, we actually sat down and we did sort of an evolution of management structure because we had a goal of reaching 25 lawyers. Of course, we had the experience of sole proprietor, where I had a lawyer and a secretary. Then, we had built to a five-person firm where we had a managing or senior partner, which was me. We had lawyers, and then we had senior secretaries, and a bookkeeper. Then, we had secretaries and clerical.

When we were nine and we started working with Chuck Santangelo from Hildebrandt, we worked out a long-range plan where we would have an executive committee, and a financial partner and managing partners. Then, we would have somebody who’d do associate management. Then, we hired an administrator at Chuck’s recommendation, and under the administrator he was responsible for bookkeeping and purchasing, billing control, paralegal, secretaries and clerical, librarian, receptionists and file management.

Then, he asked us to determine what areas of the law we felt that were appropriate for Central New Jersey, and we came up with litigation, real estate, corporate, securities, labor, taxation, probate and wills, and estate planning. If you look at Stark & Stark today, those are the pieces that make up the whole. So the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that pretty much describes, as you can see from our website what we have done. We have pretty much, interestingly enough, followed the four things that you write about in your book. Which is to be an expert in your field, to hire really good people. To let them be creative, not be afraid to have people fail, no retribution for failure as long as you try your best, and be passionate about what you do. We have found, if you look at our firm and if you look at who was here and is still here, almost everybody is here, except those people who didn’t fulfill our mission. [inaudible 00:13:12] Or who created a practice where, frankly, they were representing both sides and they ran into conflicts with the people that they trained. So that it almost became necessary for a plaintiff’s employment person to go out on his own or her own, and a defendant’s employment person. So sometimes within growth you create conflicts, which creates some turnover. But you shouldn’t have turnover because people aren’t happy with your worklist.

Michael: Right. Right. Yeah. Man, there’s so much in there that I wanted to follow up and ask you about. You made essentially a strategic plan that, let’s see, ’88s, I don’t know. What is that? Forty years ago, approximately and it’s still in place. So, that sounds kind of unique to me to have, maybe not the vision in terms of the time frame, I don’t know what you stated, but that’s a big vision for an eight or a nine-attorney firm to go into all those practice areas.

Albert: That was our goal. Of the nine lawyers that were basically the foundation, or the building blocks, each one of those, every one of the lawyers was good at that particular field at that time.

Michael: So were you already that diversified as a nine-attorney firm?

Albert: Yeah. Because what happened was is that we hired people who put us out of business. In other words, I was doing some general work together with personal injury and David was doing some personal injury and real estate. Then, Rick, who was the third person, was doing some banking and estate planning, and then we hired people as Rick became one of the best banking lawyers in the state in estate. David became one of the best trial lawyers in the state, which permitted me at that point to go national. So that we all helped each other grow.

Then, interestingly enough, I got a call from a fellow who I actually babysat for, whose father was my tennis coach who was in Washington and wanted to come back home. He was doing commercial real estate. So, he came back and he actually began a commercial real estate practice, which he just retired at the age of 65. He was the best land use planner in Central New Jersey.

So, we had a procedure of strategic planning and tactical moves. But we kept with Chuck Santangelo from Hildebrandt Company, having retreats on a two-year basis, a three-year basis, so that we kept up the same bed, same dream kind of culture. And reexamined ourselves both on a firm basis and on a personal basis so that we could continue to grow. Of the partners in our firm today, most all of them except for two this was their first job.

Michael: Right. Okay. So one of the things that just is really intriguing to me is recognizing that in different practice areas there are different economic realities. Different rates you can charge, different methods of whether it’s contingency or hourly. So, do you have a guiding philosophy that enables you to recognize those differences in the economic realities and still have people be part of the same team?

Albert: Yes. Because take a billable hour person. Ideally, you want to have them earn or bring in and bill, and collect three-and-a-half to four times what their compensation is. So, let’s assume that a billable lawyer who really works hard and works 1,500 to 2,000 hours, and they bill $400,000 to $600,000. If you take that rule, they’re only going to be making a third of that or a quarter of that, $150,000 to $200,000. So how does that person participate? Well, one of the greatest things in a firm is communication and trusting each other, and liking each other.

So let’s assume somebody has an in to a personal injury case. They bring in the personal injury case or maybe a medical malpractice case, where the fee is $1 million or maybe $300,000. The firm has to recognize them for bringing in the case, because we wouldn’t have the case if it weren’t for them.

At the same time, the personal injury lawyers, the contingent fee lawyers have to recognize the value of the billable people, because the billable people give the personal injury people the opportunity to go take the risks. Because there’s constant cash flow and sometimes in a personal injury, especially when you’re handling serious cases, you might get a postponement in November. A case that you thought was going to be part of this year’s income is going to be part of maybe next year or even the year after.

So you have to have an understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that everybody is here working together. So some people may be, to the outside, overpaid. Some personal injury or contingent fee people, especially people who do construction and litigation, they may feel differently. You have to be able to communicate and talk, and like each other and realize that money isn’t everything. That there’s more to a practice of law and the life in the law than just what you take home.

Michael: Yeah. It’s interesting. I find that compensation for really strong, effective attorneys, the number one thing that drives them, it seems to me, is not entirely compensation. But they wouldn’t be happy in an environment where their compensation doesn’t recognize their value. Because that’s an external measure of where they’re at and the achievements that they’re making. So, that’s as much an external motivator as winning a trial can be. They’re both reflections of excellence.

Albert: Michael, one of the most interesting and important things that I’ve learned, you point out in your book and that is you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror. Because we, as lawyers, oftentimes deceive ourselves. We don’t see ourselves the same as others see us. Both our colleagues don’t see us the way we see ourselves and clients don’t see us the way we think they see us. So that what you write in your book is something everybody should listen to, and that is the importance of listening, the importance of looking in the mirror. Because when I was managing the firm, I walked around and talked to everybody every day.

I never asked the why question. I never asked the how question. I never asked the who question. Every question I asked anybody when I walked in their offices started with “what”. “What’s going on in your life? What’d you do today? What’s happening in your family? What’s bothering you? What’s really making you happy? What’s the most interesting case you’re handling today?” Always “what”, open-ended question. I know a lot of lawyers who said, “Albert, we [inaudible 00:23:11] because nobody comes and talks to me.” The reason is if you’re not going to walk around and talk to them every day or every other day, they’re not going to walk into your office.

Michael: Sure. Yeah. You can tell yourself, “These people ought to come bring these problems to me. What’s going on?” But really, they can only do that if they, let’s say… There was an analogy that I used. I heard Michael Phelps, the swimmer, talk about this, is that when he was training he was making deposits. When he got to the Olympics, that’s when it was time he wanted to make a withdraw.

That became a really interesting metaphor for me. I thought about that in terms of relationships. That if I want to be able to depend on my team in moments of crisis that I had to have in place already, made enough deposits where I had that equity to draw from. It sounds like that’s what you were doing with the daily check-ins.

Albert: Yeah. I think that’s a fabulous analogy. Let me give you another type of analogy, when you talk about looking at yourself. If you’re a pharmacist, you spend all day answering phone calls and giving out pills. Well, you can’t really succeed financially just giving out pills. But if you hire some other pharmacists and you open some other stores, then you give away a lot of pills. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. So you’ve gone from a pharmacist, to somebody who gives out a few pills to somebody who gives out thousands of pills, [inaudible 00:25:18] the script guy. Then, if you go a little further and let’s say you’re a nurse, you can only charge so much for being a nurse. You only get so many hours. But if you have a nursing company and you basically send nurses to other houses, you can do better.

Then, if you’re a doctor, a doctor can only command X amount of dollars. People value doctors, but they value a neurosurgeon or a brain surgeon more than they do a family doctor. Well, in the law it’s the same thing. You can be a walker, a trotter, a sprinter, long-distance runner. It’s important if you’re going to look at yourself to see, how do people see you? Do they see you as the expert who can write the book on how to win a personal injury case? Do they see you as somebody who can communicate the challenges in a lawyer’s life? Back in the beginning when we had no-fault insurance, became the expert in no-fault insurance by writing a simple thing about insurance. My partner, Bruce Stern, is basically one of the best brain injury lawyers. He took over my practice. He’s got the book, and Bruce is known as one of the finest brain injury lawyers in the country. So, lawyers have every opportunity today because of the compression in the industry to be unique and to separate themselves, and to be in great demand because of their expertise. People flock to success.

Associates and partners trust success. So that as I’m talking to you, I’m thinking about the things that I read in your book. I look back 50 years and I say, “If only I knew what I know today,” and that’s why we’re talking. It’s a great opportunity for me to share this with you. What can I say?

Michael: One of the things that you talked about in those 12 guiding principles that also stood out to me as building a quality team. Obviously, just through the conversation you’ve already made reference to that a few times. How do you go about doing that? Let’s say that you’ve got a small firm and you don’t maybe have the ability to attract the very top talent. How do you approach that? What do you do?

Albert: You do have the ability to attract top talent. Because it’s not what law school you went to. If you have the passion and you have the attitude, attitude, attitude, attitude, I can make you a success. Because it’s almost like a chef in a kitchen. If he’s got a sous chef and he’s got people up on the line, and everybody’s working together, you put out a great meal. If you do have an unproductive sous chef or you have somebody who’s not cooperating in plating the dish, it’s going to come out a mess and nobody’s going to come to your restaurant. You have to weed out the unproductive, as difficult as it is. I must say, one of my biggest difficulty was having loyalty to people and not necessarily doing what I’m saying to you today.

Michael: Well, sure. Yeah. When we’re talking from the 10,000-foot view, any tips we’re providing probably come because we’ve violated those tips many times. Right?

Albert: I learned more from my failures than I have from my successes. Building the team is really interesting, because one of the things that I used very effectively was brainstorming.

I would get six people in a room from the mailman to the librarian, to whatever. We would sit around a table, and we’d go around three times and you could pass. But we had a subject. For example, how to make the waiting room more client-friendly. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight constructive opinions.

We had a scrivener who writes them down. Go around again. Go around three times, and by the time you go around three times you built a team that’s going to make your waiting room the most welcoming part of the office. The waiting room and receptionist are the most important parts of the office, because that’s the first thing that the client sees. How to answer the telephone, and if the telephone operator hears what a personal injury lawyer and a real estate lawyer, and a commercial litigation lawyer and the mail person thinks that’s good. Because then you come up with an action plan. We’ve gone to our clients, to their houses, to their businesses. We asked them, “What do you want from us? What do you like about us? How can we improve?” Never ask what you don’t like. “How can we improve? What can we improve upon?”

Go around, it takes a half-hour, 45 minutes and you built a team because you know what your goal is, and you can measure it. Let me just show you an interesting thing [inaudible 00:31:59]. I actually happen to have it here. When you say “build a team”, I have this little chart. You can see it’s all in my handwriting. This is a result of one of our brainstorming sessions. What was our goal back then? Fund coverage, evaluate insurance policies, appraisal of the building and contents, evaluate areas of the law we don’t cover, expense accounts for lawyers, outside counsel, regularly scheduled meetings. And on and on to the end of a handbook and employee evaluations, and their brief bank, and the training program. So we had a six-month plan, because we did brainstorming on how we can improve the office.

Michael: Now, was that in an off-site?

Albert: Right here, these are things that I kept. What are the positives of the law firm? Talented group, okay. Salaries are okay. Benefits, okay. Support staff, okay. Working conditions, okay, equipment support. Negatives, training evaluations, policy on progression [inaudible 00:33:09]. Determine the expectations, doing evaluations, one on one, etc. Mentoring and more formal meetings. I had charts like this over and over and over and over. Over the years, we used these to show the new people what it was like back then so that they can use the same formula and techniques to continue to build and make this place even better than it is today.

Michael: Right. Well, okay. So, one of the things I wonder about or that I think about is people who are really effective and really talented, they… If everybody brings with them the faults or their virtues, so if someone who’s really driven can also have an impact on those around them, maybe with staff or something like that. Or somebody who’s motivated to get an excellent outcome can only see the outcome, and sometimes that has negative repercussions in a team environment.

Especially when you’re assessing talent, is there a line that you’re trying to draw? Or how can you assess, “If I’m only focusing on that upside, what about possible negative impacts? How can I build a team that’s effective as a team, rather than simply picking the strongest individuals?”

Albert: Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses. Every team has to have people who are strong in different areas. Let me give you a perfect example. My secretary who was my right-hand person for 45 years, we go out to lunch once a month now. Every one of my files was in perfect order. If I kept my files, they would’ve been a mess.

There are people who will answer every phone call. There are people who won’t. But as a leader of that group, of that team, you have to have expectations that are enunciated and almost written down. If people don’t meet those expectations, then they either have to shape up or ship out. Different strokes for different folks. Sure, you’re going to get the egomaniac trial lawyer, who has to have his client when he’s in trial is number one, and his family, his wife are number two. In reality, he or she is number three and everybody around them is number four. But you can’t be so out of balance.

One of the techniques that I’ve used very effectively with people who are out of sorts is I ask them to do two things, and both of them have five components. When they wake up in the morning after they take their shower or when they’re doing their hair, get a little sticky like this and write down five words, “me”, and in my case my wife’s name is Ellen, so that’s the second word. The third is “mind”. The fourth is “friend”, and the fifth is “other”. I ask them, and I do it myself, is write down something you’re going to do for yourself today and something for your spouse or your significant other, or whoever is close to you. It could be your mother or your father.

What you’re going to do for your head, intellectually, what you’re going to do for a friend. You can do something. Just call somebody. And finally, what you’re going to do for somebody else, somebody in the community, an organization. Maybe give a gift. Maybe call somebody who’s sick and say, “I hope you feel better.” Maybe pay a condolence call. Do something for somebody else so you have a balanced life. The other five things is I ask people who are stressed out or causing problems that they may not even know they’re causing is, “What are the five things you don’t want to do today?”

I have them write them down. Then, I ask them, “How hard would it be for you to do those five things?” Because sometimes people who are problematical are having problems, and they may have a block. They may not want to work on that file which is on the bottom of the pile, keeps getting on the bottom of the pile. They might not want to do some continuing legal education, which would really be important because they’ve got to go on a Saturday morning to the CLE program.

It’s a wonderful technique to be able to use to communicate and to get people back where their teammates want them to be. Sometimes the home run hitters don’t recognize there are guys who hit singles, doubles, and there’s a catcher who’s as important as the pitcher.

Michael: Sure. So getting back to your earlier comment about the communication and sort of making sure everybody’s on the same page, but I think about it in terms of hiring. Is it better to see somebody’s talent and bring them into the environment, but then bring in someone who does damage? Or is it better to be absolutely certain that you’re only hiring people who are going to be team players, but maybe let some real stars get away because you’re kind of playing it safe that way? Do you have a thought? If you had to be on one side of the fence or the other, how would you…

Albert: Well, I’m not one for hiring laterals. I like to have people who are local and loyal, and who have good common sense and a terrific attitude, who I enjoy going to dinner with.

Michael: Right. Right. So, in hiring laterals, I’m not actually sure in terms of the growth of the firm. Has it all been internal organic growth? Or have there been mergers or acquisitions along the way?

Albert: We have pretty much 90% grown from within. For example, we went into Bucks County, which is right across the river from Trenton.

We handled a lot of cases in Pennsylvania, but we referred them to another firm. One of the major partners of the firm we referred cases to retired. So the remaining partners asked if they could do a Stark & Stark office in Bucks County. So they did, but we knew them. One of our lawyers moved close to New York, and he would rather go to New York than come to Princeton. So we had a New York office. We had a lawyer who semiretired down at the beach, the shore, and he said, “Can I open an office there?” So we opened an office. But it’s pretty much all been internal growth. We’ve hired laterals. But I must frankly tell you that except for one or two, they have not worked out. Because they had a different culture. They couldn’t adjust to our whole being greater than the sum of its parts philosophy.

Michael: Sure. Yeah. I’ve heard that time and again that the hardest part of a merger is the culture, and it’s the most important thing. It’s probably a pretty tough thing to evaluate too. Because if you’re at the doorstep of this transaction, people are motivated to tell you what you want to hear. So it becomes kind of hard to assess what’s really the case.

Albert: The other thing you have to recognize is who, what, when and where you are. If you want to control your own destiny, you have to know who you are. You can’t be somebody you’re not, and that goes for law firms as well.

Michael: Well, hey, I would love to just hang out for hours and keep going. But I recognize we’ve been on for a while. But let me ask you maybe one last question. If there’s anything that I didn’t specifically ask you about that you might want to highlight for law firm leaders who are trying to build an excellent firm, any sort of recommendation that I just didn’t bring out to your questions?

Albert: I’ll tell you, the interesting thing is, and I must tell you, everybody says to me, “You’re the only lawyer who can say this.” In 50 years of practice, I never sent out a bill. If I did something for somebody that wasn’t a contingent fee, I would tell them, “When I’m finished, pay me what you think I’m worth.” Today, I walked out and I said to my wife, “Did you have a delivery on the porch?” She says, “No.” I walked out, there was a bag and in the bag was a Magnum of a 2006 Barolo Y, [inaudible 00:45:09]. I did something for somebody about three months ago, and I got a gift. If you were to come into my office, I’ve got paintings, I’ve got sculptures from clients. Never sent out a bill, never had an account receivable.

If anybody wants to go on www.albertstark.com, there’s a form they can fill out of any question they want to ask me, and I’d be happy to answer it for them. Albertstark.com came about because after I stopped trying cases last December 2014, lawyers would call me and ask me, just like you contacted me, to help them with some of these issues. Compensation, growth, plateauing, doing an opening statement or a closing statement, getting a theme to a place where you can tell a story that a third grader can understand, and I would do that. So one of the people in the office said to me, “Let’s set up a website for you. Who knows what your next career is going to be?” So I never know what’s over the hill.

Michael: That’s awesome. That’s very great.

Albert: So, www.albertstark.com, fill out a form. I’d be happy to get back to anybody. If I have anybody that I think you could help they’re yours too.

Michael: Well, Albert, I want to thank you so much for participating today and really appreciate your sharing your perspective. Thank you so much.

Albert: Thank you too, Michael. Happy New Year.

Michael: Yeah. Happy New Year too.

Key Links

Books by Albert Stark

Show Notes

  • Best advice Albert ever received: [2:23]
    1. Seek advice from experienced lawyers
    2. Befriend those who can help you navigate the legal system
    3. Take advantage of the opportunity to generate work from everyone you meet
    4. Be aware of the flaws of the legal system, as well as your adversary’s
    5. Trust the jury system, even with its flaws
    6. Try everyday to put together a winning team
    7. Be ethical, no matter what
    8. See the law as an art. Not as it’s a science and not always fair.
    9. Know that short cross-examinations in court are more powerful than prolonged ones
    10. Be aware of the professional expert
    11. Always ask questions no matter how experienced you are
    12. And your biggest job is to find a niche that’s right for you
  • The most important thing for young lawyers… and at every career stage [3:48]
  • Finding his first cases in 1968 [5:23]
  • Saying yes to the case that other lawyers considered un-winnable led to the first six-figure award in central New Jersey [6:13]
  • The two-part core philosophy he and his first partner shared [7:40]
  • Hiring an outside consultant in 1988 [8:29]
  • The ultimate job as leader of a firm [9:12]
  • How the strategic planning they did in the earliest days of the firm led to the reality of the firm today [10:45]
  • Four guiding principles they’ve followed: [12:30]
    1. Be an expert in your field
    2. Hire really great people
    3. Let them be creative; let them fail
    4. Be passionate about what you do
  • Regular off-site strategic planning every two years [16:30]
  • Dealing with different economic realities in different practice areas [17:18]
  • Lawyers need to guard against self-deception [21:40]
  • Talking to employees daily as managing attorney; the most important question to ask [22:40]
  • Creating publications to raise your profile [26:33]
  • You can build a quality team no matter the size of your firm [28:18]
  • A very specific approach to brainstorming for solving problems and building a team [30:04]
  • Brainstorming with clients [31:36]
  • Technique for dealing with employees who are “out of sorts”; five words: [37:15]
    1. Me
    2. Significant other’s name
    3. Mind
    4. Friend
    5. Other
  • Getting unstuck: [38:50]
    1. What are the five things you don’t want to do today?
    2. How hard would it be for you to do those five things?
  • Final tips for law firm leaders trying to build an excellent firm [44:30]