This is version 3.0 of my bio. The two prior versions focused on skills developed and lessons learned that led to the formation of Valorem Law Group in 2008. While those skills and lessons are foundational and important, they are not nearly as significant as the lessons we have learned since Valorem was created. This version of my bio focuses on what we have done and learned since Valorem’s inception. If you need to details on my skills and accomplishments, I invite you to open my formal bio.
First, an observation. I will not discuss my personal accomplishments, because perhaps the most important lesson learned is that great teams accomplish more than any individual can, and Valorem, in my view, has been blessed with people who are great teammates and help us deploy great teams. So if you are looking for a lone wolf as your lawyer, you are not on the right page.
We started Valorem on January 2, 2008, months before the “great reset” that followed Lehman’s bankruptcy in the fall of 2008. We began with the simple notions that clients deserved great client service and budget certainty, and that we should have fun providing those outcomes. We believed the firm name should reflect our core beliefs (Valorem means “value” in Latin). We believed that alternative fees and not hourly billing, combined with “skin in the game” (holdbacks or bonuses) and empowering clients to rewrite bills so the invoice reflected the client’s judgment of the value we provided were the means to achieve those objectives. To do these things, we knew we had to work together, that the power of we was far greater than the power of me. We knew that do this we had to abandon the traditional law firm model, and we did. We designed space to make getting together and collaborating easy, including creating a space for just that purpose.
We designed a compensation system that made collaboration in everyone’s economic interest.
We took risks on fees where we benefitted greatly if we met our client’s business objectives. We rejected the idea of body count and instead embraced disaggregation, focusing on those parts of litigation where added value and partnering with others who could do other tasks faster and cheaper than we could. We learned quickly that when you work with the right enterprises, not only are they faster and cheaper, the quality and outputs become better than you dreamed possible.
We believed early on that we needed to be true to ourselves. We are an irreverent bunch. Our first website earned a considerable reputation because we poked fun at our (and our clients’) nemesis, the billable hour. Our bios were unlike any written by any lawyer. We joked about ourselves and poked at the Goliath law firms we litigated against. As my fellow founder Nicole Auerbach often says “we take our clients seriously, ourselves not so much.” Why did we let so much of ourselves come through when virtually every other law firm strove to be bland and vanilla? Because if you don’t show who you are and what you stand for, you say nothing to everyone. We are who we are. Some clients love us because they know exactly who we are and what we believe. Others may well decide against calling us for that same reason. But better to know earlier rather than later.
A lot has happened since 2008. Lawyers who thought we were crazy to use alternative fees in 2008 now call us for insights into how to price matters and how to make profits on fixed fee engagements. And as they scramble to catch up on the fee front, we apply lessons learned along the way. We learned that every fee structure incentivizes behaviors, so it is essential to discuss what behaviors your client wants to incentivize when structuring a fee. We learned that alternative fees are not an end, but instead a tool to provide great client service. We learned the importance of other tools—project management, process mapping and efficiency, decision trees, early case assessment, disaggregation and, perhaps most important, after action assessments. These are now all pieces of the overall service we provide to our clients.
We learned to think about what we do from the client’s perspective. We utilize a specific email protocol designed to reduce the time that must be spent on email. Clients love it. We share our after action assessments with our clients. They love that too. We spent a great deal of time thinking about the number one problem Law Departments face, having to do more with less. So even though we are a litigation firm, we joined forces with Jeff Carr, the iconic former General Counsel of FMC Technologies, and formed a new business that has, as its focal point, the prevention of legal problems. We know of no other law firm who have created a business to help clients in a way that, if successful, could pose an existential threat to our core practice. We know that if we reduce the demand for litigators enough to put us out of business, we’ll be in demand enough to buy small islands.
In the course of this, our clients have been pleased enough with our work and our approach to land us on the prestigious BTI Consulting Client Service A-Team for the last 4 years. And I personally have been honored to have named a Client Service All-Star MVP for 4 years. Our clients have named us one of only 22 firms in the United States as “best at alternative fee arrangements” and a “leading recommended firm” in the Manufacturing industry, in the top 5% of law firms in that sector. Being recognized and recommended by our clients is our greatest honor and validation for the approach we pioneered starting back in 2008.
Noted legal futurist Richard Susskind once described the market’s reaction to change agents this way:
Stage 1: "What you’re saying is worthless nonsense."
Stage 2: "What you’re saying is an interesting but perverted point of view."
Stage 3: "What you’re saying is true but quite unimportant."
Stage 4: "I have always said so."
We are proud that the legal community who thought our approach “worthless nonsense” in 2008 now claims to “have always said so.” Every firm talks about alternative fees and client service, but none have changed their basic business model to make the tools needed to provide great client service the centerpiece of their existence. So with due respect to those who “have always said so,” few firms share the space we created for our clients.
I attribute my success in large part to the path I took to get to where I am today. I joined the firm now known as Katten Muchin Rosenman when I graduated from law school in 1982. At that time, Katten was a mid-sized firm whose clientele tended to be entrepreneurs. As a result, I had considerable contact not only with “the client,” but more importantly, with people who ran the businesses. To survive in that environment, one had to learn the value of short, direct answers to business questions. We did not have the luxury of lengthy analytical memos. We learned to look at our effort as an investment, always focusing on whether the payoff justified the investment.
One of the traits I learned when working with entrepreneurs early in my career is to look for business solutions to business problems. I love it when I have been able to arrange for my client to buy the company suing us, for example, or when, through creative mediation, we have been able to resolve matters for much less than reserved. The application of creativity to litigation problems is one of my strengths.
I was fortunate to spend a great deal of time in court, and I have tried a number of cases. When my mentor was sued personally (the firm also was sued), he tapped me to defend him and the firm. I was tapped later by another partner who was sued personally in the aftermath of a tremendous pro bono success he had achieved for the highly publicized “Bambi Bembenek,” whose story was touted in books and a movie. While my personal relationships with these partners increased the pressure to win, I was honored to be their chosen trial lawyer. My mentor had himself been mentored by the famed trial lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, who founded the legendary Williams & Connelly firm in Washington, DC. To this day, my mentor’s praise that “Edward Bennett Williams could not have done a better job” is a source of great satisfaction. The verdict in our favor on both cases was unanimous.
I tell the stories of the trials of my former partners because their requests that I represent them when their reputations were on the line are the strongest endorsements I have received. But courtroom accomplishments are only a small part of the story. I learned early on that most clients hate the uncertainty and high cost that accompany trials and instead want business solutions quickly.
In this context, the ability and willingness to take a dispute to trial are tools to achieve the best possible resolution. If your opponent fears a jury verdict, that fear can be exploited to our client’s advantage. The key is to never let the desire to win at trial compromise the ultimate objective of getting the best result for the client.
From a substantive standpoint, I have spent considerable time representing clients in mass tort claims, including acting as National Coordinating Counsel and National Trial Counsel. I have handled numerous post-acquisition disputes for clients following roll-up business plans that spawned considerable litigation around the country. Beyond this, I have handled numerous fraud investigations and suits, contract and warranty claims, construction claims, professional liability, lending, minority shareholder and similar disputes that businesses experience more frequently than they prefer.
I have been blessed with great client relationships and many of these clients would be pleased to tell you about their experiences with me. Feel free to ask me about references.