Research, trial strategy, debate. As a lawyer, these are the complex areas in which you thrive but when it comes to building a sustainable business, your education and your experience can’t guarantee your success. Today’s legal landscape is changing.
Behind the doors of your competition are large corporations and powerful executives who understand that clients are consumers looking for exceptional service and fast results. Will you be able to deliver in this new environment? How will you remain competitive and ensure growth?
Can you become the lawyer and CEO you need to be? In The Lawyer As CEO, Reza Torkzadeh explores these changes and he shows how to adapt your mindset, develop your employees and build a customer-focused business. Reza shares how his firm became a market leader by positioning clients as consumers, firm as a Fortune 500 company, and a lawyer as a CEO.
Let’s jump into today’s conversation. Here’s my talk with Reza Torkzadeh.
Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast, I’m your host Benji Block and today on the show, we are joined by Reza Torkzadeh, who has just authored a book titled, The Lawyer As CEO: Stay Competitive, Attract Better Talent and Get Your Clients Results. Reza, welcome into the podcast.
Reza Torkzadeh: Thanks so much and good to be here and thank you for the opportunity.
Benji Block: It’s going to be great to chat with you, I would love for just a little context on your background and what got you into law originally?
Reza Torkzadeh: Yeah, sure. You know, I think having practiced law now for going on 15 years and having owned and run a law firm and in particular a personal injury contingency practice, you know, I kind of think of myself almost as an entrepreneur that has to wear so many different hats. And if you’ve run a law firm, you know that truly every department, the buck stops with you. Whether that’s your marketing department, whether it’s your intake department, whether it’s doing the actual legal work and so growing up, I had parents who were very entrepreneurial, very creative, and who truly believed that you can do anything you want.
After undergraduate, you know my intention was never really to practice law. I actually was planning on going to medical school and in my last year of college, realized that it really wasn’t for me. A, I wasn’t smart enough to do that but I’ve got this entrepreneurial sort of fundamental belief inside where really, I do enjoy being creative, I do enjoy building and more importantly, I love people.
I love interacting with people, I love being able as a lawyer to change people’s lives through our work, which is something that I’m just so really passionate about. That’s where I am today, I love what I do, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and I’m really proud of the book and happy I’m able to put it out there in the world and for folks who are either in my shoes or who are on their path to building and scaling their law firm and the unique thing about the book also is that it’s not really just for lawyers.
I mean, I think it applies across any business across the board for any business owners or any potential business owner whose really looking to build a business that is not only sustainable but a business that you’re truly proud of and a place where people will enjoy coming to work.
Transition from Lawyer to CEO
Benji Block: I love the title, The Lawyer as CEO. I’d love to hear the story of how you woke up to that realization that you can’t just be a lawyer, right? In fact, you need to take and put on, in your analogy, this hat of CEO and look at the practice that way.
Reza Torkzadeh: Yeah, you know, the legal industry is so different than any other business industry out there, and rarely ever, maybe never, do lawyers who own their practices even call themselves CEOs but the reality is that’s what we are. So when we’re in law school, we’re learning how to write, we’re learning how to do research, learning how to do legal analysis and the application of all that, never in law school did I have a class that taught you how to run a business.
Never in law school did I have a class that taught you how to market yourself and get business and that’s still true today. Now, some law schools may have some classes that do that but I think that we’re very far removed from every other industry that does have coaching for lawyers, that does have specific courses.
That teacher really had to be a CEO and in the book, what I say is to go off from owners who are reading it, ask yourself this question, “If you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, how would your investors look at you when you’re making your decisions?”
This is truly a mind shift as an approach to running a law practice is you’ve got to wear the hat of CEO because your ultimate duty is really, not only to your clients but also to those people that work for you and who count on you and who rely on you for making decisions that are in the best interest of not only the clients first and foremost but also the best interest of the firm.
It’s the dichotomy that I think has been taboo for a long time to really discuss and talk about. But I think in 2022, where we are today, if you want to be a successful law firm, in particular in the area that we’re in that’s extremely competitive being personal injury, you really need to understand the dynamic of running a business, the finances, the operations and most importantly, your talent acquisition and retention.
Benji Block: So, it’s one thing for you to understand it, to wake up to the necessity, even have that internal question of like, “Okay, if this was a Fortune 500 company, how would the stakeholders look at me?” But, it’s another thing to go ahead and write a book on it and to share that with the world. So why was now the right time to do that and take on a project like this when you’re already busy and have other things on your plate?
Reza Torkzadeh: Great question. I think a couple of things. There’s no other book out like this right now for lawyers. I put myself and I do this often and say, when I first started the practice, what did I wish I have? I wish I had a book like this. I share a lot of my mistakes, I share some victories in there but, had I had a book like this to go to, maybe just for inspiration or maybe to learn from, I think I would be in a different place.
So, the book took about 18 months to write, it’s not that, “Hey, look, May of 2022 is the launch date.” It was really a labor of love and a process and I wanted to make it a meaningful book of quality content. I also wanted to make it an easy read. As lawyers, we’re all super busy, the last thing we need is to add more reading on top of what we’re already doing. But I really wanted it to be a quality book that could stand not only the test of time but it was a book that folks can go back to and read multiple times.
It’s a super easy read, it’s a quick read, but it has real quality substance in there that I think could really have an immediate impact on many, many people, their firms, their clients and ultimately, their lives and their future and so for me, it’s a way of giving back to those younger generation attorneys who are doing things in innovative ways that I never thought of doing.
I get to learn from the lawyers who are just now getting into the industry and are just now getting their practices off the ground and so for me, I think the book is a way to meet new folks, the book is a way to share some of my wins and losses in the state but also, to be a book that can inspire folks and inspire the younger generation of lawyers, those creative lawyers who are really making a meaningful impact in our communities.
The Changes in the Industry and Establishing Your Core Values
Benji Block: I’d love to dive into some of the content now with you and one of the things I think you even say right off the bat in the introduction is how much the industry has changed. We could talk about that probably for an entire episode but I wonder, looking back at maybe the last decade or so of the legal industry, what are some of the major shifts that you see and how does that then setup the necessity for the sort of CEO mentality that you’re advocating for?
Reza Torkzadeh: Right, well, I think the big one was COVID, right? The realization that your practice, your firm, your organization cannot be tied to a desk any longer in an office space. Meaning, you need to, you have to, it’s a requirement to be able to work mobile and for your workforce and your team members to be able to work mobile.
Our firm went, the shutdowns came down in early 2020. We went mobile and we never came back. So effectively, we’ve got 60 plus offices around the country in home offices. I think COVID was the big one and the realization that you really need to rely on talent. Not only maintaining your talent but also, the technology that’s needed and required in today’s world to effectively run an organization remotely. I think that was number one big takeaway in today’s world.
You know, when I look at the past 10 years and how things have changed, well of course, laws are going to change, different legislators across the country make different changes that can impact your practice but that’s true of any industry. I think in particular, law has gotten extremely more competitive to advertise and market yourself. It does in mass media, mainstream media, and social media.
I think it’s gotten extremely, in some areas, cost-prohibitive maybe. I also think the barrier of entry is increasingly getting more difficult as new law students are graduating and looking to start their own practices, I think it’s becoming very challenging.
Benji Block: One thing from the outside looking in that I wouldn’t have guessed is this pattern of maybe firms struggling with leadership and you have noticed that pattern. You see it recurring into this part of this idea of the CEO. When we think of a CEO, we think of someone that can provide vision, right? Can ensure people are moving in the same direction, they are the voice or sort of the public face of the organization.
So I see a lot of those lines that you’re drawing. I wonder what is it about, again, from the outside looking in, what is it about firms that maybe make leadership difficult or complicated or something that is hard to really lock in?
Reza Torkzadeh: Yeah, you know, that’s a great question and I talk about that exact topic in the book. They don’t teach you how to be a leader. When you start your practice, defacto, you are the leader. When you hire new team members to come in, they look to you to set, not only an example of how behaviors and decisions should be made or required to be made. But I think a lot of times, as a lawyer who starts a firm, you know, we think, well, we’re at the top.
We make decisions and the ramifications of those decisions are generally usually clear, right? I was at a phase in my firm where I was lacking leadership myself. My behavior and my decisions were very different than what I was verbalizing to the firm and just a quick – I’m not going to tell the whole story because it’s longer and folks can read it in the book but there was a point in my firm where I had a very difficult individual working for us.
Great employee, was producing for us but could not get along with others. On one hand, I was telling the entire firm, “I have your back and I’m here for you” and so when they would come to complain about this individual, I’d shut the door on them and I’d tell them to leave. So I was saying two different things and that wasn’t real leadership.
Real leadership is saying that we care about our teammates and actually taking the steps and making the decision to be compassionate, to be caring, to be understanding, and then making those really, really difficult decisions to make changes that are needed to have a firm that people enjoy working, to have an organization that people are proud of, right?
I mean, I think we struggle a lot as business owners and leaders with the personalities we have in our organizations and the culture. And we hear that word a lot and culture has been used to death at this point but I think culture is really what allows you to scale your firm. Culture is what allows you to grow. Culture is what allows you to work through challenging times as an organization and you know, it’s a lot easier to do when you’re a smaller firm, right?
You can manage the culture a little bit easier but if you start growing and scaling, well, the culture is just the people that you continue to bring into the firm and if you’re rapidly growing like we were and bringing folks in without really concentrating and thinking about the personalities and how that could impact everybody else, you know, before you know it, the firm is going to have a culture of its own that could be totally different than what you had envisioned when you had first started the practice, which is the exact scenario I found myself in.
Yeah, I mean, there’s a whole chapter about that and I think it’s really important for folks to know who are struggling within their own organization right now, whether it be hiring or firing or culture or core values, which is something that we really invest a lot of time into, culture is something that starts at the top.
I learned the hard way but culture starts with me and culture is really what I tolerate and so what we allow to continue when those behaviors are opposed and in conflict with our core values. So if I could say anything in a few words it’s that everything starts with the top, it starts with you, the owner or the CEO or the leader, and then it trickles down, and don’t lose sight of that and don’t lose how powerful the examples and the decisions you make and the ripple effect that that can have on the rest of the staff.
Benji Block: I’d love to hear how you’ve seen work on the culture-defining your core values, this living from this place of going, “Okay, I am the one that sets this up and what I allow will continue” like once you’ve put those things in place, how did it have a direct impact on those working in the firm but then also on the future hiring process?
Reza Torkzadeh: Yeah. Well, finally when I made that decision to really focus on how things are impacting others in my firm, I realize that I have to hold myself accountable. I mean, that’s where it really starts. Our core values, we spend a lot of time coming up with core values and it was through that experience that we realize, “Look, we need a framework within the organization whereby others abide by.”
Others understand, these are clear concepts that we’re going to live like this every day in interactions within one another, within the teammates, with interactions with the outside community or opposing council and we spent a lot of time coming up with these core values and you know, I challenge all of my teammates, all of the folks that we work with every day when you’re in a position of conflict ask yourself, “Are you working within the framework of these core values or not?”
If you’re not, well then maybe that will allow you to see a different side to it. Our core values are radical authenticity; which means being yourself, being truthful, driving for the win, which means you’re focused on improving yourself, keeping laser focus towards the goals and reaching those goals, respect for each other internally within the organization and outside, treating folks with kindness, kind of what that means.
Growth mindset; meaning that recognize that every day we can do better even if it is one percent, even if it is half a percent, even if it’s 0.1%, growth mindset, have that mindset of wanting to do better, wanting to improve yourself and that doesn’t necessarily have to translate into your work. Maybe it means improving your health, maybe it means improving your diet, maybe it means improving your sleep so that you could function better.
But have this growth mindset of improving every day and then the last core value we have is unwavering integrity; standing up for what’s right and doing what you say and say what you do and do it in an ethical, honest, courageous way and I encourage those firm owners, law firm owners or business owners, think about your core values and they could be totally different than the five I just mentioned but think about the things that are most important to you.
Think about the example you want to set for those that do come and work for you and the community and come up with your own framework. What drives and what makes your organization different and what makes it unique, what makes is special. And why would other folks, the talents that we are all seeking, talent acquisition right now, you know when I look at it, this has probably been the most difficult time to attract talent.
Benji Block: It’s a wild time.
Reza Torkzadeh: It is and I think it’s like that across the board in every industry and so as a CEO, as a leader, as a business owner, you want to give your best shot at attracting the best talent and it is culture, it is these core values, it’s what we can provide that talent that really makes the difference. And I used to have this mentality in recruiting and hiring that, “Hey, what can you do for us? What can you do for me? What can you do for the firm?”
I have a completely different attitude to that now. Now I say, “This is what we could provide you. This is how we can help your career, this is what we can provide in terms of having a better quality of life. This is what we can provide so that you can have dignity and be proud of where you were” and it’s still a work in progress. You know, I don’t think there is a silver bullet. I think there are still many challenges that I face today that I’m still dealing with.
But I think what readers will see in the book is the journey that I went through is not an easy one but I also know it’s not just unique to me. I know that there are a lot of organizations out there that struggle with the same things that I talk about in the book and it was a real incredible exercise for me to put it down on paper and to see where I was and how difficult the period of time that was.
I mean, there would be times where I would go home and say, “You know what? Fuck this, I’m done. I don’t need this.”
Benji Block: Yeah, I believe it.
Reza Torkzadeh: And where I am now and so, it’s been an incredible journey and one that I’m really proud to share.
Transforming the Firm
Benji Block: It’s critical that we kind of get our house in order first and so I think it’s great that you start there and you say, once that’s in order then you can start to sort of look outwards and then it becomes about serving clients and I’ll tell you another thing from the book that I wasn’t necessarily expecting or I don’t put on lawyers is this idea of customer service. So when it comes to customer service, you actually say, lawyers very rarely consider the most straightforward basic business principle of them all, which is just provide better service.
Those words are not often put together with lawyers and providing better service. I don’t think that that’s a direct correlation. So what role can and maybe you would say should customer service play into law practice?
Reza Torkzadeh: Yeah, that’s great. I’ll tell you, I tell our staff every day that we are a customer service business that happens to practice law. Our clients come first and when you look at the advent of Amazon Prime, Amazon now where you can go on your phone within 30 seconds to order an item and it’s at your house within a couple of hours. When you look at Apple, when you look at all the consumer-facing products that the consumer is using today and how easily, they’ve made their services accessible.
It is only natural I think for a successful organization to be just as user-friendly. Just because we’re lawyers doesn’t mean that we can’t use technology to improve our processes and more importantly, improve that experience for our clients. They are in the five-mile radius that I’m sitting right now at our office. There are probably a thousand personal injury lawyers, what makes them all different?
You know, most of them are good lawyers, right? Some are great lawyers but the consumer doesn’t know the difference. The consumer knows their experience with your organization and your firm and I think the only way to really build a brand that can withstand the test of time, the only way you can distinguish yourselves from these competitors is to make the most important component of your practice the priority and that’s the clients.
Do it in a way that’s meaningful, do it in a way that they’re used to not only communicating but also doing their transactions. So when you’ve got the Amazons of the world and the Apples and the Googles making everything extremely simple and easy and customer service focused, then it is a requirement to do so as a law firm.
Benji Block: We’re starting to come to the end of our time together but I want to touch on something you just said there, I think it leads perfectly into where you go in the book, which is to then end up talking about marketing, differentiating yourself, getting your name out there and you share a story about what you and the firm choose to do when COVID hit. I wonder if you’d share that story, how that one was a representation that you don’t just talk about it but you actually want to show that you care, right? But also it’s a way of getting your name out there in a sense and how those two things can be in partnership and not in conflict.
Reza Torkzadeh: Yes, so I think I did two things that were really transformative for the firm. So the first thing that I did was that we did an all-hands meeting with the entire staff over Zoom, realizing what an uncertain time this was for everybody. The last thing I wanted was anybody to worry about their next paycheck, so what we did is I called an all-hands meeting and just let everyone know at the outset there will be no layoff.
Everyone will continue to be paid as scheduled and we’re a family together and we’re going to get through this together. And I’ll tell you, I could feel the relief through the screen on Zoom and everyone kind of dropped their shoulders and said, “Okay, this is so great. You know, we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to eat next month or pay rent next month because the owner of the firm just said no layoffs and everything is business as usual.”
So that allowed my entire team to say, “All right, well let’s go to work” and that’s why remote working has been so successful to us. But the other thing we did is early on when we say we care about the community, we want to give back to the community and our most important contribution can be giving back to the community, we’ve been saying that for years and years and a lot of people say that but I think a lot of times it’s bullshit.
So what we did is early on when COVID was happening, it’s just chaos everywhere and there were mask shortages. So what we did really quickly and there were mask shortages in emergency rooms and hospitals that were treating COVID patients. So we were able to find these medical masks and I mean, I think to date we’ve donated over 100,000 to all the first responders, the hospitals, and the emergency rooms locally here.
That really took our brand and went from, “Hey, this is another lawyer that’s just trying to get business” to “Wow, look at what this law firm is doing. These guys have nothing to do with hospitals or healthcare workers but on their own, they went out, they procured these masks that people are having a very difficult time locating” we bought them, and then we were going out and delivering them to the hospitals.
I think people really looked at that and said, “Wow, yeah these guys might not be full of shit.” That really started a chain of events of, “Hey look, this is a law firm that really wants to give back and have an impact on the community in a positive way” and for us, it really allows us to reach a demographic that I think otherwise we wouldn’t know and gets us in touch and in tune with what really is happening in our communities.
Benji Block: I love the story and I do think when it comes to showing how much we care, it’s not an all-or-nothing thing, right? You can show you care and also maybe post about that on social or do some strategic thing from a marketing perspective that doesn’t lack self-awareness, right? That isn’t too in your face and so I think that that approach is so key. We want to show that we care, we want to be in the community.
We also on the backend like if there’s ways that we can make that a little bit more public, we should be looking for ways to do that. I think that’s where marketing is right now and definitely will be even more in the future and it’s a great way to continue to think about things. Man, great conversation here Reza. I think we could talk on much more of what you put in the book but that’s why you created this resource.
So we’re going to encourage people to go and pick it up. Let me ask you a final question, when readers are done with the book for their first time, what do you hope their main takeaway is? Is there an action item you hope they are prompted towards? Is there a mindset shift? What are you hoping for when people put the book down?
Reza Torkzadeh: Well, just be inspired, get excited about your practices. Be inspired about the impact you can have on the lives of so many people. Whether it’s your teammates, whether it’s your family, whether it’s your clients, just understand the power of that. So, I think really if I had one takeaway it’s folks put it down and their inspired to go out and do good.
Benji Block: Love it. Well, thanks for stopping by Author Hour today and giving us a peak behind the book and also some of what we can expect as we pick this up and read it. I know it’s going to be a great resource. Besides the book, where can people stay connected to the work you’re doing and where could they reach out?
Reza Torkzadeh: Social media is great, so @torklaw or look me up personally. I think social media is a great way and then of course, just reach out to the office. I’m happy to connect with folks. As I said at the beginning, I think part of the real upside of having the book also is I get to meet some really fascinating people but yeah Benji, I really appreciate the invite and the time. So this has been really great.
Benji Block: For sure. Let me read the title one more time for our listeners, it’s called, The Lawyer As CEO: Stay Competitive, Attract Better Talent, and Get Your Clients Results. Go grab the book on Amazon, I believe it is going to be really impactful for so many. Reza, thank you so much for stopping by Author Hour today.
Reza Torkzadeh: Thanks, Benji, thanks.