Michael Moradzadeh | Founding Partner & CEO of Rimon Law
Innovating the Law Firm Business Model | Silicon Valley Roots | Great Leadership | Creating a High-End Global Law Firm | The Competitive Landscape Post-COVID | Benefits of Non-Attorney Ownership | COVID Family Life | Advice for Launching a Firm
I interviewed Michael Moradzadeh | Founding Partner and CEO of Rimon Law on Friday, November 6th, 2020.
We started the episode with Michael sharing about his Silicon Valley roots and the transition to law school in NYC. We discussed the start of his career at Ropes & Gray and his natural bent towards startups and innovation. We discussed the creation and evolution of Rimon Law including the unique challenges they faced in the first three years. We discussed three types of firms that will thrive post-COVID. We dialogued about non-attorney ownership in the US and our predictions for the future. We talked about examples of great leadership. We discussed his family & the way COVID has affected their world. We wrapped up the conversation with advice for those considering starting a firm.
Here are some highlights of my interview with Michael Moradzadeh:
Right before the Tech Bubble burst, we began our Dot com. A lot of customers didn’t pay up, and we didn’t have good contracts. It taught us how important law is to a startup.
There was always that itch of what we could be doing better. I was constantly thinking creatively about innovation and law firm business models.
There was always something in my mind about what a tech company is doing, and why we weren’t doing those things at a large law firm when we’re advising tech companies.
It made it strikingly clear that for my clients who are all over the world, it didn’t matter if I was sitting in this fancy office in San Francisco or working from home.
We felt that a law firm needed to be started from scratch and based on the realities of the 21st century so we came up with the idea of Rimon.
To be able to finance a firm or to finance a practice without having to bear all the risk like corporations is a good thing. This will allow more innovation because if you can get outside financing, again, you can take more risks, and actually invest in technology, and ultimately have a better product.
The relationship between the relationship lawyer and the client is super important. And the reputation of the relationship lawyers is going to continue to be paramount. I don’t think that’s going to change.
Research shows that the best leader is actually a humble leader who gets the next generation ready, and who is also making sure that others are participating.
I had this sense of joy of trying something new as I was going for a walk the day Rimon launched. It was scary, but it was very joyous.
Launching your own firm is an exciting thing to do, but just be very aware of the fact that there’s a lot more work than you would think there is.
Links referred to in this episode:
Michael Moradzadeh | LinkedIn Profile
Michael Moradzadeh | Rimon Co-Founder | Firm Bio
Rimon Law | Website
Napster | Wikipedia Page
Checkpoint Software Technology | Website
Ropes & Gray | Website
Yaacov Silberman | Rimon Co-Founder | Firm Bio
Jim Collins | Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap & Others Don’t
Josh Green | Mentor | LinkedIn Profile
Gerald Davis | Gilgamesh
Leon Kass | The Beginning of Wisdom
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Greetings, friends. This is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. In today’s episode, I spoke with a Silicon Valley native, who with a friend of his while associates at a big law firm went out and launched their own law firm 12 years ago. This firm and my guest has now been a recipient of awards for law firm innovation. We discussed this and much more.
If you haven’t already, please subscribe to this podcast and leave a review on iTunes. We interview corporate defense law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants.
You’re listening to Episode 50 of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
Chris: Welcome to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast, I’m your host Chris Batz with The Lion Group.
Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Michael Moradzadeh, Founding Partner and CEO of Rimon Law. Michael directs the firm’s strategy, partnerships and firm recruiting. After law school, Michael started as an associate at Ropes & Gray before launching Rimon Law in 2008. He has presented on innovations and law firm management and business models at Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School, to name a few, as well as received awards from the Financial Times and the American Bar Association. Michael received his law degree from Columbia University School of Law and undergrad from the University of California Berkeley.
Welcome, Michael, to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.
Michael: Thank you, Chris. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Raised in Silicon Valley’s 80s & 90s
Chris: It’s fun to learn that you were raised in Silicon Valley and technology was an early part of your life. Would you share with my listeners some of that genesis story for us?
Michael: It was a particular gift to be raised in Silicon Valley in those days in the 80s where we were already learning some very basic computer programming in kindergarten. To give you some idea, the corporate relationship our school had was with Lockheed Martin. We got to tour Lockheed and see some of their technologies. It was a very exciting time to see supercomputers in first grade on your field trip. As a result, I always had a great fascination with computers and the early days of the internet. I grew up around technology companies, worked for technology companies, and in high school, had my own little .com, and throughout college got to be around tech companies. It was a really exciting time.
Chris: That was EZ Webmall that you launched, correct?
Michael: That’s right. Yes, a .com with my brother.
Chris: Did you end up selling it?
Michael: No and it was actually a very good experience. We started it right before the bubble burst, and we didn’t have good lawyers. So a lot of customers didn’t pay up, and we didn’t have very good contracts. It was a very good learning experience. It taught us how important law is to have a good startup and a good business, ultimately.
Chris: What an experience. If I understand correctly, you served a little bit of time at Napster and Checkpoint Software, correct?
Michael: Yes, so during those calm days, I worked for a few dot coms that don’t exist anymore. Through the Cracks was an example of this, and then Napster is another example of one that doesn’t exist anymore. Napster, as most people who are old enough to remember or who have studied the case in law school, ultimately went down over questions of the ability to share music without paying the artists. So that experience, again, was a great intersection between technology and law and art, and how those three come together and how the law influences technology and art. It was a bridge for me to want to go to law school. Checkpoint Software is the one company that’s still around and thriving, a tech company, they do internet security. It is now very relevant because cybersecurity is becoming more and more important, but it has less of a legal element to it.
A Love of Psychology
Chris: At UC Berkeley, was your undergrad degree in psychology?
Michael: That’s correct, my major was psychology and my minor was in international studies.
Chris: Was it always the plan to go to law school?
Michael: No, actually. I started off wanting to go into medical school. It was a transition from medical school to psychiatry to psychology, and I really love the topic of psychology. I was going to become a psychologist, but then I did a few internships while in college for professors. As I was actually studying the therapy sessions, I found that it wasn’t for me. I thought it would be, quite frankly, too difficult for me to spend day in and day out for years and years with schizophrenics in therapy, which was my original intention. Ultimately, these experiences working in the technology field at places like Napster, and my minor in international relations, led me to want to attend law school with a focus on international law.
Law School on Wall Street
Chris: So, you went from Silicon Valley to New York City for Columbia?
Michael: Exactly. They were totally different perspectives back then. I think New York has changed quite a bit since that time. At that point, Columbia Law School was very Wall Street oriented. The idea of working for a startup, at that time meant being a hot dog vendor in Central Park. The expected path was to go to a Wall Street law firm and have Goldman Sachs as a client. So a totally different perspective, but those two different views really frame a lot of the way I think today.
First came BigLaw
Chris: Did you summer at Ropes & Gray?
Michael: Yes, I was a summer associate at Ropes & Gray in the New York office and in the San Francisco office. Then, I started as an associate in the San Francisco office, which was a new office for Ropes & Gray. Opening a new office with them was a little bit entrepreneurial, for one of the oldest firms in the United States.
Chris: Would you share with my audience about your client base and your experience in practicing in Silicon Valley for Ropes & Gray?
Michael: As many of your listeners will know, Ropes & Gray is an old-line, traditional law firm. Most of the clients I was working for were private equity shops like Bain Capital, Morgan Stanley, and Johnson & Johnson. We were working on mega deals, multi-billion-dollar deals, which was, again, a very different perspective than what I grew up with. Ropes & Gray was a great culture. In fact, we talked about the Silicon Valley culture I grew up with, the Wall Street culture of Columbia Law School, and then, Ropes & Gray had the Boston culture with a very academic feel to it that I loved. So, I started off doing work for these huge multi-billion-dollar deals. My roots really called out to me, and I wanted to do more of the startup work. So, I transitioned at Ropes & Gray to doing more work for venture capital and early-stage startups.
Chris: At what point did you start thinking about innovating law firm business models?
Michael: Constantly. It never really went away. There was always that itch of what we could be doing better. During my undergrad at UC Berkeley, most of my friends were actually Computer Science and Electrical Engineering folks. There were six guys, five of them were engineers and then there was me. They all went to work at tech companies. When I came back from New York to Silicon Valley, most of my friends were working for companies like Google, which at that time had just gone public. Facebook and Twitter were relatively new. Twitter was a startup and Facebook was still an early-stage company. There was always something in my mind about what a tech company is doing, and why we weren’t doing those things in the law firm world when we’re advising tech companies. Ropes & Gray had an amazing team of lawyers, and we were advising these cutting edge clients, but the firm itself, which is as good as law firms go, was operating like it was the 1990s at best.
Creating a 21st Century Law Firm Model
Chris: So, were you one to be vocal with the law partners about suggesting changes?
Michael: At Ropes & Gray, the structure was such that even though it was very collegial and team-oriented, there wasn’t that much room for internal changes. To some extent, of course, there was, and I was very lucky that I was in the San Francisco office as there was a little bit more of that. But from my perspective, I felt like there was an opportunity for a different type of law firm altogether. Not necessarily to change Ropes, because Ropes was doing very well and they’re still doing very well. So, my coworker and I at the time, Yaacov Silberman, who had just moved from the Boston office to the San Francisco office had very similar views on this. His move is relevant because when he moved from Boston to San Francisco, obviously his email address stayed the same and his phone number stayed the same. He kept the Boston number, and it didn’t matter where he was. It made it strikingly clear that for my clients who are all over the world, it didn’t matter if I was sitting in this fancy office in San Francisco or working from home. So we started to talk about what we could be doing differently if we were to build a law firm from scratch. Big firms can’t do it because they have their systems so large changes are not so easy for them. They’re not foolish. They’re very smart people. They are just structured the way they’re structured. We felt that a law firm needed to be started from scratch that is built based on the realities of the 21st century. Now we’re in 2020, so that’s not asking much, right? Our firm is built on video conferencing and cloud computing. It’s built on more freedom for the attorneys and more innovation. So, we started to come up with the idea late one night while we were working on a deal, and we went to dinner together in the middle of the night and started talking about it.
Chris: When did that conversation take place?
Michael: This would have been around November 2007. And then it was four months from that meal to our launch of Rimon in March of 2008.
Chris: So, you guys launched six months before the crash?
Michael: Yes. I can’t say we saw the crash coming. Otherwise, I could have made a lot of money in other ways. But the crash, quite honestly, helped us. A lot of the changes that were inevitable that we saw coming at that time, were significantly accelerated by the crash.
Chris: Was Ropes surprised by you guys giving notice to go and do this?
Michael: Not that they showed us. It’s hard to know. They’re very amicable and nice folks. They referred some work to us, and we referred work to them. The ones we had relationships with were very supportive.
The First Three Years of Rimon
Chris: Did you take clients with you when you left Ropes?
Michael: We actually didn’t because we decided to build this firm from the ground up, which meant that the first three years were focused on building the platform. And most of our clients were huge clients like Bain Capital that we weren’t going to take with us. But we did have clients that we were able to bring on pretty early because a lot of my friends were in the startup and technology worlds. We were able to go and get them as clients when they were starting their companies. They were thrilled that there was an option that would give them more flexibility.
Chris: What was it like those first three years and when did you start adding other talent?
Michael: Well, right off the bat. So, when I say we were building the platform, what I really mean is we were building the technology side, getting things like malpractice insurance, administrative support, and all of that ready. But we were also bringing in attorneys and making sure that we had the talent to take on work. Our number one rule was always to create a better top tier law firm. The fact that we’re using cloud computing and video conferencing is just a way to get a better quality law firm. For us, that means the highest quality talent working closely together to serve clients well, with as little friction as possible. We didn’t want to take on a bunch of clients until we had the right talent. So the first three years, in addition to using the technology and getting the administrative support, was recruiting lawyers that we had faith in doing the top tier work. That was the hardest part of building something from scratch. We weren’t a spin-off that took a bunch of clients with us and a bunch of associates. We weren’t even looking to practice law ourselves. So it was very, very hard those first three years to get that first piece to come together.
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How Rimon Evolved over 12 Years
Chris: Do my audience a favor and share more about Rimon?
Michael: The easiest definition of Rimon Law is that we are a streamlined high-end global law firm. We are not a virtual law firm like we used to be, and I’ll talk about that more in a moment. We’re not a virtual law firm that I define as a law firm where the attorneys keep 80% of what they bring in, but they don’t really get support from the firm. They’re all solo practitioners, similar to being an Uber driver or an Airbnb. So we’re not that. The firm is providing everything for our attorneys. It’s highly collaborative, but the workforce is distributed. Our attorneys are spread over 33 different offices in 10 different countries. We do leverage cloud computing and video conferencing for collaboration. We have offices, but we keep them efficient. Most of our attorneys do work remotely. So that’s the broad definition. Now, would you like me to kind of go through the process of how we started off and how we became what we are?
Chris: Yeah, let’s do that. Go for it.
Michael: That’s the hardest part. To define what Rimon is you have to have the story. When we started in 2008, the goal was to create the next generation white-shoe law firm. We decided the best way to do that is leveraging technology to bring in the best lawyers and allowing them to keep more money and have more flexibility. So the way we did that was with an 85/15 split. The firm would take 15% to provide overhead support, and the attorneys would keep 85%. That 85% would then be split between the attorney who brought in the work and the attorney who did the work. Now, within three years, we found that was just too limiting. With 15% going to overhead, the firm couldn’t really provide the resources we thought were absolutely necessary in order to do bet-the-company litigation, multi-billion-dollar M&A, or serious IP work for example. Working virtually is great, but sometimes you need a conference room to talk to a client, and going to Starbucks doesn’t always cut it. You need to have a room where you could lock the doors because you’re holding important IP, for example. So three years in, we decided to shift into what I consider a hybrid law firm. We shifted from an 85/15 split to a 70/30 split. The firm then takes 30% for overhead and the attorneys keep 70%. The 30% covers everything that an attorney usually gets at a conventional law firm like secretarial support, IT support, the best technology for security, and we certainly don’t ask our attorneys to bring their own devices. We have a great marketing team, we use Westlaw, we have retreats, and all these things cost money. It also covers things like office space, again, streamlined so it’s not office space that’s unused. But office space attorneys can use from time to time, and as well as a back-office where administrative support can do large document production, things like that. We found that the 70/30 is the perfect medium. It’s that middle point between large conventional firms with high bureaucracy, high costs, and instability and virtual law firms that we felt were really just a collection of lawyers under one brand. And that’s where we’ve been in the last nine years of the 12.
Chris: Basically, you say that you guys are not a virtual firm now?
Michael: Well, that’s an interesting thing, because “virtual law firm” is not a scientifically defined term, right? From my perspective, a virtual law firm means a firm where there are no associates, there are very little actual shared resources, but the attorneys are getting the benefit of the brand of the firm and the network. But otherwise, they’re really on their own. We definitely aren’t that. Right now, we’re now at 135 lawyers.
The Post-COVID Competitive Landscape of Corporate Law Firms
Chris: With a historic pandemic right now, what is the law firm structure that’s going to thrive post-Covid?
Michael: I don’t think there is only one model that will thrive. I think there are going to be at least three categories of high-end corporate law firms. Currently, there are all sorts of different law firms, and I’m not going to get into that. But the AmLaw200 firm model is going to probably split into a few categories. We’ve already been seeing that happen in the last decade. The old line, white shoe firms are probably not going to change all that much. Despite what some say, I think Wachtell and COVID are going to be just fine. Then there’s the other group that’s going to be a lot more like the Big Four. So let’s say the Dentons, the DLAs, and the like run much more like a massive corporation. We’ve seen that progression happen over the last 15 years in that model. The third category is going to be this very broad category of all those firms that are not either A or B, right? They’re not the top tier white shoe firms. They’re not the massive mega-firms, and they need to decide what they’re going to be. Those are the ones that are going to have the hardest time if they don’t figure that out soon. Specifically thinking in terms of post-COVID, we’re going to see these firms that have realized that office space is not nearly as necessary. Lots of research and surveys have shown that the majority of lawyers, even partners, but certainly associates prefer working from home, but they have long term leases. So, they’re not going to change overnight. The firm culture wasn’t built for this, so it’s going to take time. But they’ve also found that what they thought were administrative needs weren’t actually necessary. So they’re going to be cutting down on administrative time as well. So, over the course of the next 10 years or so, with the time it takes to move out of a lease, for new people to come in, and some people to go, eventually, you’re going to have a much larger group of firms that will adopt the hybrid model. They’ll have offices, but I don’t think they’re going to have an office for every lawyer. They’re going to have a mix of some partner offices, some private conference rooms, some phone booths, and a lot of people working from home and using videoconferencing. That’s already happening now, but it will be accelerated because of COVID.
Non-Attorney Ownership Benefits and Predictions
Chris: Michael, let’s talk about non-attorney ownership over the next 10-20 years. What are your thoughts on the implications of this taking place?
Michael: This is something I’ve been following very closely because I think it’s very important. To begin, we should trace back why law firms have to be owned by lawyers in the first place. As lawyers who are listening will recall from our ethics classes in law school, the idea is if non-lawyers own a profit interest in the law firm, they’re going to unethically pressure clients to pay, pressure the lawyers to build more, or take on matters that they shouldn’t take on, etc. It makes sense when you’re talking about the smaller ones, like a two-person shop, that doesn’t want to be owned by a huge faceless corporation. But when you’re talking about the really large law firms, they’re already managed in such a way that you could have some great safeguards to make sure that clients are treated ethically and that the work is done ethically. Like they do in the UK and Australia where they’ve already opened this up, you could have a wall between the decision making of how to build a client or take on clients, which can be done by lawyers versus the business side. It’s the same issue in medicine, where the doctors have to own the medical practice, but lots of hospitals found a way around that by having the business side as a separate entity. Given the reality of how law firms practice now, I think the bigger law firms could be run a lot more like the Big Four. A better example would be investment banks that have gone public, like Goldman Sachs. These ethics rules can be modified to make sure that the ultimate issues of clients concerned are still safeguarded. If you do that, I think it’s very good for the public and really, for everybody. It’s good for the lawyers, and it’s good for the public. It’s good for the public because we are seeing that there’s a lack of access to lawyers, particularly at the lower price range in this country. This is actually the reason that Utah and Arizona have been opening up. DC actually did it before anybody else. For lawyers, it is going to be better because it’s going to create different options for financing. Right now, it’s already happening through more creative methods of getting litigation financing. To be able to finance a firm or to finance a practice without having to bear all the risk yourself just like other corporations is a good thing. This will allow for more innovation because if you can get outside financing, again, you can take more risks, and actually invest in technology, and ultimately have a better product.
This begs the question of why isn’t this happening yet? Why is it so slow here in the US, when in England, and in Australia, they did this long ago? And other countries have allowed it from the beginning. I think it’s simply fear. There’s the protection of the guild. From a big law perspective, there’s the idea that if we open up, the Big Four accounting firms are going to take up our work. I don’t think that’s true. You can look at what happened in the UK and that did not happen. The Magic Circle firms have not been hit by this. Even with the midsize firms, there’s no indication that opening up the ABS law firms has had any effect in that way. And there’s certainly no evidence that there has been a difference in ethics between the alternative business structure law firms and the traditional law firms. Eventually, it will open up once our guild allows it to open up a bit.
Chris: How soon do you think it’ll happen?
Michael: Slow, it’s going to take a long time. I think even Utah and Arizona are just testing the waters now. It’s not like they’ve gone on and completed it. There’s going to be a lot of questions. For example, Arizona allows law firms to be owned by non-lawyers in certain circumstances. So, once they form a law firm that’s VC backed in Arizona, can that law firm represent clients outside of Arizona? Can it hire lawyers outside of Arizona to represent clients in Arizona? As far as I know, after speaking with ethics lawyers about this is that nobody knows. It’s even a question with the UK. With these alternative business structure firms in the UK that we have relationships with, there was a question of whether or not we could have a cross-referral arrangement with them. And we couldn’t get a clear answer on that. So, we’re still at the very, very beginning stages, and I think it’s going to be a while before things open up, certainly in New York or California. Those two are very protective bars.
Chris: I personally think it’s going to happen this decade.
Michael: We’re going to see it broadly happen throughout the country, but my perspective of slow is maybe a little different. I think 10 years is still pretty slow. Do you think it will happen in two years?
Chris: I think it’ll happen by 2025. It could be two years, but I think it really depends economically. There’s so much dry powder out there with the kind of capital and innovation that’s happening, the steps that the Big Four are already taking, etc. I don’t think they’re law firm killers. Dentons is working towards a professional service model. Baker McKenzie is already there. DLA Piper will eventually get there. But those guys are barely any different than the Big Four and look at the collaborations that already are happening with Deloitte interacting with alliances in the United States. If the embargo is lifted, there’s going to be a rush. For example, Reed Smith is the first US firm to have an ABS license in the UK.
Michael: Yes, I saw that. I personally hope it does happen within two years. I wonder if it’s going to happen in the same way that Uber happened. Currently, there is this slow encroachment through innovative means, like litigation financing from hedge funds, some innovative ways for hedge funds or private equity to invest in IP, etc. Some are taking equity in a certain separate arm that’s owned by the law firm. It’s legal, but it’s a workaround. You’ll also see a law firm split into an operating company and a professional service company. Eventually, it’s going to slowly get there anyway, and they’ll change the law. People don’t think about where this is happening very regularly. Big corporate AMLaw200 law firms are technically practicing Delaware law, with a California license or a New York license, for example. I’ve asked a few ethics professors about this and there was never an opinion issued that allowed for this. It just eventually became the way of the land. Do you think COVID hasn’t had any effect on non-attorney ownership?
Chris: COVID is going to definitely accelerate it especially because of the virtual nature of what’s happening right now. There’s going to be a growing demand for reinvesting capital and allocating capital in effective ways. And I agree with you, the ABA and Bar Associations are going to have their hand forced a bit. With Reed Smith, I wonder if they’re going to surprise the country by trying to take some capital and do something with it. We’ll then see a rush of other firms going into the UK to replicate that. Imagine a Kirkland Ellis setting up their own firm there that’s already outrageously profitable. I would anticipate Kirkland doing an IPO and just feeding the drive for more profitability.
Michael: By the way, I should mention we also formed an ABS in the UK. We’re not looking to take outside capital yet. But once we were going to the UK anyway, it just made sense. It gives you more flexibility. So yes, I get why Reed Smith would do it. Any law firm thinking of going into the UK at this point should do it. Again, you have to be very careful about the ethics rules of the UK entity. When paying a percentage to the non-UK entity, or to the US entity, it’s not clear. So we’ve got to be very careful with that. You’re making a good point, and I hope it opens up to your ideas. It’ll be interesting.
Attorney/Client Relationships are Here to Stay
Chris: In your opinion, what will never change in the business of law?
Michael: That’s so difficult to answer because never is such a strong word. But let’s say in the next 100 years, the importance of relationships between the partner and the client in our sector of the law will not change. It’s too difficult to generalize all law practices. But in most law practices, the attorney/client relationship is going to stay important, even if you’ve got AI doing most of the work for things that are considered mostly commoditized. With time they’re going to become more commoditized because of AI. But I still think that the relationship between the relationship lawyer and the client is super important. And the reputation of the relationship lawyers is going to continue to be paramount. I don’t think that’s going to change.
A Great Leader Inspires People to Lead
Chris: How do you define leadership, Michael?
Michael: A good leader is really someone who knows how to bring people together and to inspire. There’s a quote from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said, “A good leader gets people to want to do something. A great leader gets people to want to lead.” And I think that’s really a great leader. I don’t think a good leader is somebody who’s just telling people what to do or operates by force or fear. That might get something done in the short run. As the book Good to Great that many people read 10 years ago said, the best leaders are ultimately going to be humble and get the next generation to be ready to lead. They make sure that everyone in the organization has a say because ultimately, that’s going to make the best product.
Chris: Along those same lines, who have been examples of leadership for you?
Michael: Yes, I have heroes. There isn’t just one or two. There are many I’ve looked to throughout my life. I tried to have as many mentors as possible throughout my life that came from different sectors.
Chris: Any shoutouts?
Michael: I want to thank my parents. They’re my heroes. In the beginning, Josh Green, who started Venture Law Group and was a great mentor at the beginning to help us see things through with starting a new law firm and thinking differently. There have been friends. Richard Cash is now a mentor of mine, who has been on boards of many publicly traded companies. He helped guide us and see things from the clients’ perspective early on. Many, many others. I’m not going to name them all because I’m sure I’ll leave people off and I don’t want to do that. It’s important to constantly have new mentors as well as old mentors in your life to guide you through different perspectives and different times.
For me, the ideal leader is actually Moses. Research shows that the best leader is actually a humble leader who gets the next generation ready, and who is also making sure that others are participating. And when you read the story of the Prophet Moses, that’s very much what he was. He was a strong leader, not cowardly or weak, and he was inspiring. But at the same time, very, very humble. When others had an opportunity to lead, he was happy for them to take that role. And he also prepared the next generation, which is Joshua, to lead. And that left lasting influence throughout the majority of the world 3500 years later. So to me, that would be kind of the ideal prototypical leader.
Chris: I love it when people mention Moses. It’s always funny because, in Scripture, it says he was the humblest of all men.
Michael: It is funny because he wrote it himself. There are so many examples within the story, but there’s one in particular that I’m thinking of. There were two individuals that started prophesying, it says. Joshua came to Moses and said, these two guys are prophesying, what should we do? Should they be put to death? And Moses responded no, that’s great. I wish more people would prophesy. Even taking out the religion, it’s just the fact that here’s a leader that in a time where despots proclaimed themselves to be gods, he wanted more people to take on leadership. That was really special.
A Memorable Day: Rimon’s Launch
Chris: What has been the most memorable day for you in your career?
Michael: Well, the most memorable day, if I had to pick a very specific single day, would be the first day of Rimon. So, we launched Rimon, March 1, 2008, I moved into a house with my co-founder Yaacov, so we could work in the basement together. I remember that day very clearly. It was a feeling of absolute joy and freedom. I loved my prior job at Ropes & Gray and will always be grateful for that job. I loved the first day there as well. But I just remember that day when I was transitioning, and I just gave up my old Blackberry and was getting a new Blackberry. I had this sense of joy of trying something new as I was going for a walk that day for lunch. So that definitely would be the most memorable day. It was scary, but it was very joyous.
Chris: Michael, what excites you most about coming to work every day?
Michael: Most of my work nowadays is interacting with people, whether it’s our lawyers, our staff, our clients, our potential new recruits, or business partners that we work with. So it’s a real pleasure. It’s a real privilege to spend all day getting to talk to really smart, interesting people, and to connect with them. It’s as simple as that. It’s that personal connection I look forward to.
Family Life during COVID
Chris: You’re married. How long have you been married?
Michael: It’ll be 11 years next month.
Chris: Congratulations. And you guys have three kids?
Michael: Yes. My God, we have three children. One is turning 10 in a couple of days, the middle is seven, and the youngest is four.
Chris: Are you guys done?
Michael: According to my wife, yes. She gets to call the shots, so yes.
Chris: How has COVID affected family life this past year?
Michael: It was very difficult, particularly at the beginning. As was the case with most parents, our kids no longer had to physically go to school but were doing online school. In the beginning, because everybody in the neighborhood was using up more bandwidth, the internet was very bad. We switched to a different internet. But the first week was very, very difficult, with these little kids at home. And it was during the rainy season. It got a lot easier as we figured out how to deal with that. It’s also been a special time for our family. It’s obviously a tragic moment in the world, and we’re aware of that, but it’s been nice to have more family time and be with them. As difficult as schooling them online is, it’s not homeschooling. We’re not the ones teaching them, but being there with them when they were online was very difficult. It was an important experience to see what it was like from a professional perspective. Since I’ve been working from home for 12 years effectively, I’m very grateful that that transition was easy. So yeah, overall, very stressful and busy, but not too bad.
Chris: And does your wife work?
Michael: No, she doesn’t, which made it much easier.
Chris: Do you guys typically do vacationing in the summer?
Michael: We do. So this year, we got lucky. We decided to take a vacation in the winter instead of the summer. So, we were in Israel for the winter. Right, when we got back is when the COVID stuff started. So we got our fix in right before, which is very fortunate.
Michael’s Current Reads
Chris: Michael, do you have any side hobbies or personal passions or anything like that?
Michael: Yes. I like a lot of things. Most recently, I’ve been particularly interested in archaeology, and as odd as this may sound, I’ve really been into reading about Sumerians and the fall of the Bronze Age. I recently read Gilgamesh, which was fun, as well. With COVID, a lot of other options have been closed, particularly here in Northern California, where the guidelines are pretty strict. So, I’ve just been reading a lot more books and spending a lot more time with family.
Chris: Do you have any book recommendations outside of Gilgamesh?
Michael: I’m reading this book called The Beginning of Wisdom by Leon Kass. Leon Kass is a University of Chicago professor and was, I believe, actually, George W. Bush’s Bioethics Advisor. The book is taking a perspective on the book of Genesis, not from a religious perspective, and also not from an archaeological perspective, but from a philosophical perspective. It’s a deep dive. And because philosophy and psychology have always been my passions, along with ancient cultures, it brings it all together very nicely. So I’m really enjoying reading this book.
Advice when Launching a Firm
Chris: What advice would you give an attorney who’s considering launching his or her own firm?
Michael: It’s an exciting thing to do, but just be very aware of the fact that there’s a lot more work than you would think there is. When you’re small with just a few lawyers, it’s particularly difficult because then you can’t have a dedicated IT person, accounting person, or marketing person. Even if you have a dedicated person answering your phone, for example, and that person is sick one day, then you’re stuck doing that. And so when we started the firm, those first three years were very, very difficult for that reason. We were definitely not making money then either. The costs are going to be so high in proportion to what you bring in, starting out. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, it might be worth it for all the other benefits that you get from having your own firm, namely, freedom and the pride of building something, but I think people often underestimate the costs and time just to set something up.
Chris: Michael, thank you for your time today. Appreciate it.
Michael: Thank you, Chris.
Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
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