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By J.D. Houvener
Patent Attorney and Founder

Good afternoon, everybody! Welcome to the Bold Lawyers show. I’m Matt, and with me is Matt. Good afternoon! I was sorry, I choked on my mustache. Goodness sakes, um, so good to have you guys all here. We’re live across Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. This week, we got Facebook back, which is awesome. We’re doing the B Lawyer show today, which is focused on attorneys. You’ve got at least the two of us, and we have a very special guest backstage, my brother Austin, who’s been waiting backstage. We’ll bring him on in just a few minutes.

This show is for you, the attorney, the lawyer who is maybe in a big firm, maybe you’re thinking about hanging your own shingle or climbing that ladder to become a partner and owner. We’re interviewing owners of law firms, entrepreneurial-type attorneys from all different types of backgrounds, and that’s what the show is all about. So, pulling out kind of the, you know, how did you get started? What brought you into the law? What are you doing to grow your own practice? Matt, anything on your mind this week you want to bring up?

I hired a new paralegal. Oh my gosh, so that’s super exciting. I have been incredibly productive this week. Yeah, right, she’s doing great. But I am super excited to meet your brother. So yeah, my dad always used to joke about my brother. He said one of us was smart, and the other one was good-looking. So my question to you is, which one are you? Oh man, he’s a pretty good-looking guy. We’re just talking. Let’s bring him on, all right? I’ll let you know what I think.

Awesome, definitely better looking than you and smarter. Oh, thank you. He’s got that nice little flannel going, the fall colors out, flannel. Yeah, he belongs up here in Minnesota. Yeah, right, lumberjacking lumberjack. I’m actually thinking about being a cowboy for Halloween because I have nothing else. That’s all I can do. That works. Oh yeah, happy Halloween, guys. Oh, thank you. Happy Halloween. Yeah, how many people are watching this? We’ve got one live viewer, one live, and that is. We don’t get to see the LinkedIn streamers. So we got someone on YouTube, verified individual, non-AI on Facebook. So please, oh, we have two now. We’re going up. Anyone has questions, we encourage you to ask questions here. We’ll take that as a priority as we go for sure. Yeah, but Austin, we are trending, and this might get dozens of views and listens. Excellent. Good to know. Glad I could help you trend. Congrats on your paralegal hire. That’s huge. That means you must be making something. It’s my third paralegal. So hopefully, I can keep her around for quite a while. Paralegals are amazing. They’re a rarity, and they’re expensive. The good ones are. So good for you.

Yes, well, okay. Austin, counselor, I’ll be sure to, you know, here the general guide here is we’re going to interview you. We want to hear your story about what drew you to the law and what brought you to your practice that you are now a part owner in. Congratulations, by the way. Thank you, main partner at your firm TCD. And we’ll start there. So let’s talk about your journey as an attorney. What drew you toward the law? And we’ll start with that.

Well, my degree, my Bachelor of Arts, was useless. And so, ending junior year at the Frat, I was like, well, maybe I should figure something out post-graduation. So you and I decided to do a night course in learning the LSAT, which was a terrible waste of money. We each cut a check for a thousand bucks. This fly-by-night learn-the-LSAT situation, yep. We both took the LSAT. We both scored poorly. You were higher than me, I’m certain. Yeah, by like a nose. And, long story short, I applied to UBB, didn’t get in, and my backup, one of my backups, was Willamette, and they offered a scholarship.

Well, Willamette is actually a great place to go to law school down in Salem, Oregon. So I took that opportunity, and I just went big. I went bold in Willamette. Basically, like going to high school again because it’s just so small, and Salem, I mean, what do you do in Salem other than study and drink? Just kidding, Salem’s great. So I did that for three years. I lived in Salem, and what was hot coming out of, you know, 2012 to 2013, of course, was bankruptcy, as you probably know. We had a recession, and kind of tail end of that, but bankruptcy was hot, and that was the only private sector job in Salem, Oregon, that was paying anything.

Right. DA’s office didn’t want me. I actually prepped to do public defense because that’s, I did some legal pre, you know, law was doing. I was a public defense investigator for a second. But yeah, I ended up working at a bankruptcy firm, and I loved it. You get a lot of exposure to numbers, some accounting in there, federal law, you get some state law, federal law mix because you get state exemptions versus federal exemptions versus federal law, how that applies and helping people, you know, ‘Hey, you’re going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay. We have a path for you. You’re not going to have to lose your house.’ Like, there’s no debtor’s prison anymore, right? No, no.

I mean, if you don’t show up to a debtor’s exam and you’re ordered to, you could be held in contempt, but that’s there. I never had that, but yeah, it’s good. I mean, there’s some sad times, you know, people losing everything, and literally, we’re advising them how to walk away from their multiple houses and sad. But anyway, that was fun. I did that for three or four years. And then, you know, getting out of law school, my wife at the time was already back in California. I decided, California, before my 3L year, I’m going to California. So, applied for the bar, took the exams, a three-day bar, and got a bankruptcy job in San Leandro, which is in the Bay Area, working for Steve Jacobs.

It was a struggling firm, but he, you know, we worked through. I worked with him for a year. I did some litigation. So, I got interested in bankruptcy litigation. And then, I got an opportunity to do insurance defense litigation with my current firm about 10 years ago. So, I started doing insurance defense, which, for those who don’t know, we’re paid by the insurance company to represent their clients when they get sued. So, that’s what we do. We do a lot of auto and do a lot of auto premises, some neighbor disputes, boundary line stuff, and we do some insurance investigation work. First part, they call it first party, where you’re just investigating a customer’s claim, ‘My car was scratched up for the fifth time.’ ‘What? It was my neighbor.’ You know, it’s like, ‘No, dog, you just want a check because you scratched up your car.’ You know, it’s like, ‘We’re gonna figure out what happened. We’re gonna have someone with a camera follow you around and see what’s up.’

So, you know, I’m not, I and first-party insurance work is great, actually. I don’t mean that it’s, it’s actually really good work. And I did some of that, but most of what I’d like to do is third-party litigation. So, trials, arbitrations, you know, litigation. So, that’s what I do, and I’ve been doing that for about 10 years. And you and I talk, but just for maybe other people that are listening, insurance defense, um, another good example is, is it true that, let’s take auto, like an auto incident, is it true that for the most part, the cases that go to trial, when do they pull the trigger and hire someone like you? What causes an insurer to say, you know what, we’re going to go to bat?

Well, if you don’t have the file yet, then that would come from in-house counsel. And either they’re overloaded, there’s a concern about conflicts, or it’s just, the case is too hot to handle, and they want to get it over to someone that does trials. And that’s what we do. You know, we do get referrals from in-house counsel late in the game. We get them early. We do pre-lit cases where we’re just trying to settle it or find out the value or do we tender the limits or do we make an offer below it? What are we doing? And so, you know, we can, we injected it in many different areas along the way. But yeah, we do get files before trial. Absolutely. We just, we get in there and try it if we need to and try it to a jury all the way.

And, you know, we sometimes we’ve handled appeals in-house. We can do, we can send them out if there’s an appeal. And, you know, as far as collection goes, we’ll go as far as, you know, getting a judgment against the plan if and recording an abstract. And then we shoot it back over to the company and say, ‘You need to find some collection attorneys because we don’t do this. We’re not gonna collect.’ But yeah, we’ve gotten, you know, we, that’s as far as we take it from pre-litigation all the way through trial, monitor it. We’ll do post-trial, some post-trial.

Work post-trial motions all the way through appeal and back down. We’ve been remanded before to do more stuff after appeal, so the full-freaking-kitten-koodle litigation. Yes, these are not complex cases; these are mostly auto and, like I said, premises like slip and fall. We’ll deal with those. So, the subject matter isn’t always as complex at first blush. But when you get into the medical, we have live duty breach causation damages. Ninety-nine percent of our cases are negligence. So, was there a duty? Was it breached? Are you negligent? That means, is there legal liability? And then causation, did we actually cause injury? Oh my gosh, this is going back to law school. My eyes just like, hold on, this sounds like real lawyer stuff. Hold on, this is what we do.

So, for liability, you get accident reconstruction experts sometimes. You know, you’re getting other experts on liability. And then causation, did we cause, did we actually cause any injury at all? You’ve got to hire a mechanical expert to measure, to check out the black box data in the cars, help us arrive at the Delta V or the change in velocity of the plaintiff. So, some engineering gets involved. Then you have the medical side, nature and extent of injury, i.e., damages. We get doctors from all ilk of all sorts to come in, and you get some real, even jurist quack doctors get in there and stay their piece about these crazy injuries. People allege all sorts of stuff, exacerbations of diseases that have nothing to do with traumatic injury. They say, ‘Oh, my XYZ disease got worse because I was bumped from behind.’ It’s like, okay, well, now I have to hire an endocrinologist, and I have to have you examined by this quack and see what they have to say. So that’s what we do.

Okay, so you, sir, you have done something I certainly have not. I don’t think you’ve done this, made partner, made ownership in a law firm. Can we talk for a bit about that? We have some people that are listening and some folks that may follow this. We got like three listening, absolutely, after the broadcast, we’ve got. So, you not only made partner at a firm, you’ve also, you know, actually litigated in Federal District Court. Sounds like you said the magic words like, ‘May it please the court.’ Yeah, I got to be in there. I got to do that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was fine. I get SC just thinking about that. Oh, I know, but you know what? It’s no, I mean, yeah, I’ve done that, and it was a small firm, and my, you know, it’s not. I haven’t had to work up the ranking on a big firm, which is a much greater time commitment. But yeah, no, yeah, basically, I, you know, I did. I put my dues in, and you do your work, and you ask for more responsibility, and you basically, you know, that’s what I did. I kept asking, ‘Hey, I want this deposition. Looks like you’re busy. Why don’t you let me handle it? I’ll do this motion. I’d like to do this. No, I actually would like to argue it. No, please, I’d like to do this. I think you should do this.’ And then you start suggesting other things to do. You start suggesting more work. You start rolling. Just take, you just start taking the case from the partner, and you’re like, ‘Oh no, I got it covered, buddy. Just, yeah, I’m good,’ you know. And that’s how you do it. It’s taking ownership just like you would take ownership as a solo. You just start taking more ownership over the things that you can do and looking for the next thing. That’s why I always tell associates, it’s like, ‘I don’t need you to task. I need you to learn, learn how to feed yourself and keep the ball rolling. If I ask you to send out interrogatory requests and you bill a point one or point two for it, that doesn’t help me. What helps me is you review it. Review the responses when they come in. You meet and confirm, and you get really good quality responses from them, so I understand what they’re claiming. What is the wage loss being claimed? What are the damages being claimed? What are we going to put in our report to the carrier in three months about what this case is actually worth, right? And then the best, the better associate says, not only I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna start writing that report, and you’re gonna just have a draft of it, and yeah, before it’s due. There you go. And that’s a ton of billing for them to do, and you’ve just created value because you get to go work on your trial. You get to take that PL of Depo you’ve been prepping for. You get to do the fun stuff that you need to do because I still have to bill in my firm. So I get to bill. I get to do the things I really, really, really need to do, and I have associates creating value and learning the practice invested in the practice. Not in a way that’s threatening to me. Love that. In a way that builds my value, right?

When I was in law school, I worked at a big patent litigation firm, and that’s exactly how it worked. All the associates, all the interns, pargal externs, whatever, right? All we did was the day-to-day stuff, you know. And the partner, his job was to be spoon-fed information and stand all he did, you know. Like, he just, like, ‘What do I need to know? Like spoon-feed me.’ Right? And then he’s the litigator. He’s the big guy. He’s the big shot, right? Right, right, right. That’s you now. Now you get to be the big shot, and people spoon-feed you. Right, but I want my associates to do that. So I let them do. I let them do stuff I probably shouldn’t let them do, and that’s okay because my practice is like, I mean, I mean, 99% of things can be fixed, right? Right, you know. That’s not always the case in every little thing we do, but like this isn’t a transactional practice. You have to live the practice to do it. These people have to take those positions, or else they’re not gonna be, they’re not, it’s not sustainable value, and they’re not gonna have any buy-in. And or, I mean, I guess if I could find an attorney that would just do discovery that loved it, that would be great. But humans aren’t like that, like, you know what I mean? And I mean, I wish I wish I could have a pargal just do discovery, and some firms do that, but their billing rates lower. And I need an attorney. There’s some things an attorney has to do. A lot of these discovery, the things you’re doing, they’re asking for your legal contentions. What are you contending and state all facts? Witnesses and evidence. Why? It’s like I can’t have a pargal do that, right? I can’t even have an associate do that because I have to look at that be like this is all under oath and it can be read to a jury at trial. So this needs, right? So it’s about that trust, but yeah, you’re right. I mean, you know, I hope I mean, so is that why you went off on your own Matt so you could kind of break free?

No, I went off on my own because I couldn’t get a job at the big firm. You know, I was working at this big firm, Minneapolis IP, right? And then, you know, 2008 happened basically, right? And there was no, there was no jobs, right? So, I did. When coming out of Law School in 2011, my first job, I started my firm right, kind of tried to side hustle and build up my trademark practice. But the second thing I was doing, I was working nights doing document review from 4:30 to 1:30 in the morning Downtown Minneapolis, you know, coming out at night, you know, with all the homeless people, you know, all the drugs. That was my life for a couple of years until my practice was big enough for me to focus on that. That’s awesome. Yeah, I think I’ve always had an interest in doing, being an owner, and I took a the building a law practice class in law school actually. And it was great. Wait, they make those? Yeah, like credit, credit no credit, yeah, it’s like a credit, it was, it was, and then at the end, you present your like law firm idea. So let’s talk about the business of law a little bit, Austin, for a couple of minutes. We’re doing a critique of a pretty cool show I like. So let’s do this. You’re a partner, obviously. I would like to speak freely if you can be a little vulnerable. Here’s the question, do you see yourself eventually staying with the firm and growing it or maybe launching into your own practice, and if so, why, or why not?

This is my practice. I’m going to be doing this until I’m not working anymore. All right, so why, answer why is because I made this decision a while ago when I got equity in 2019. There were very specific terms, and one of that is that we’re going to run the firm this way, and we’re never going to go back. We’re going to be profitable always. We’re going to, you know, we’re going to make sure that we’re hitting our hours. We’re going to deliver a quality product, and this is what, you know, we’re going to try cases if we need to, yeah, gonna be that firm. And so far, it’s gone fine. And so this is my firm.

That’s a lot of trust, you said, got other owners with you, right? So that’s a lot of trust in others.

It is, but you know, I trust my partners, and that’s the thing is, you know, it’s tantamount to a solo practice at this point for me. You know, and so I mean, but I think, you know, it’s going from solo to this side, which is if I’m not solo, then there’s you’re in a partnership, that’s pretty much what you’re in. You’re basically a solo. The more, the further you go, the more you’re seeing the fruits of your labor theoretically, or the opposite. If it’s bad, it’s your fault, you know. If things are good, it’s, I guess, good for you, right? This is my solo practice. This is your practice. What are some of the things you’re doing to grow it or sustain the profitability? What do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

I see myself having maybe one or two more associates, optimizing cost control really, making sure that everyone knows what they’re supposed to do. I think managing associates is huge and managing costs. You know, managing our lease, our lease costs, our overhead. We’re, thank goodness, we’ve gone remote. We still have a brick and mortar in Pleasanton and a year on the lease. So yeah, you know, we have things to, I think I, I think I’m not a proponent of full remote quite yet. I do think I’d like to have, for my practice, it’s good to have a conference room access so you can, whether that be temporary full-time, what to figure that out. I would like to be fully remote. I would, but we have to have trials. Like the Superior Court of California, which we do our trials in, they’re still requiring paper binders, and we still have some clients that are elderly that need to be seen in person. So either you’re going to their house or you’re going somewhere that’s not at your office to meet them. Yeah, depositions are 95% remote in California, but some of them need to be in person, so a conference room is nice. Got it. Anyway, these are the things I think about: cost control. I think in five years, consistent profitability, more profit obviously. But, you know, we’re not a Vegas-type practice. There’s not going to be some big contingent fee we get. We’re not going to have a million-plus extra dollars, some magic, you know, magically at the end of the year. So, you work for every [ __ ] thing you get in this practice. We are live. It’s an hourly billing practice. You only get, you know. No, I appreciate your candor, you know, that’s, you know, no, that’s awesome.

That is so, like, you know, yeah, to Marg the marginal value of each profit level comes, that the sweat of, like, four people. Like, because remember to build a mountain, you’ve got, there’s dirt coming off the side. So, like, you build, you get another associate. Yeah, that’s potential x1,000 in revenue, but you have costs. Not to mention their salary, payroll, and it’s not like their assistants are providing any. They’re not a revenue engine. So, you have this, like, you’re building the tree, and you know, it’s, yeah, you’re the revenue engine. Right? And so, it’s just a matter of freeing you up to grow the practice because you’re not going to count on associate or paralegal to do that for you.

No, I mean, they need to hit their numbers that they’re out, right? That’s what you say, and that’s really hard to live that, too. It’s like, well, they’ve been doing well here, but then they’re not hitting here. It’s like there’s a human aspect to it as well. But you’re right, it’s like, you know, at what point do you, you know, and then recruiting. Like, people don’t want to do what I do. People, Millennials and Gen Zers, don’t want to do insurance defense. I don’t think. You never know. I mean, for the right price, you’re right. Not. I mean, yeah, I mean, it’s about fair pay, being paid fairly, fairly compensating your people. You can figure out what Gen Z wants to do, period. Let me know. I don’t know, man. I’ve interviewed so many paralegals of that generation, and I’m, I’m, I’m 38, you know, but it’s a different deal, man.

About the Author
J.D. Houvener is a Registered USPTO Patent Attorney who has a strong interest in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive. J.D. leverages his technical background in engineering and experience in the aerospace industry to provide businesses with a unique perspective on their patent needs. He works with clients who are serious about investing in their intellectual assets and provides counsel on how to capitalize their patents in the market. If you have any questions regarding this article or patents in general, consider contacting J.D. at