Barry Seidel opened his own practice right out of school in 1982. He later wrote a book about his experiences, called Evolutions of a Law Practice – How I Opened My Law Practice Right Out of Law School…and Lived to Tell About It. Now he writes, speaks, teaches, and consults about law practice, with the goal of helping other lawyers improve their practices and their lives. Along the way, he’s also gained wide-ranging, innovative deal-making success.
The areas he supports other lawyers include starting and growing a practice, the transitions of a practice, marketing and business development, law practice management and systems, and personal development as it pertains to entrepreneurship. As a practicing lawyer, Barry focuses on Surrogate’s Court. That includes probate, kinship/cousin cases with the Public Administrator, and ancillary probate. He also runs a per diem court coverage service in Queens County, including virtual appearances.
An Early Start
Barry remembers wanting to be a talk radio host when he was a kid. He’d listen to both sides of hot topics, and enjoyed debating and discussing various points. By the time he was in highschool, he was on the law student path, which he stayed on throughout college and beyond. He didn’t, however, know what he would specialize in. The many places he’s been able to go with his law degree, and the arenas he’s tapped into, have been a source of surprise and enjoyment.
Barry notes that he worked at a small firm while in law school, which he highly recommends. Beyond just being aware of what kinds of cases the partners were taking, he took a strong interest in the management side of the office. From how billing was handled, to what the office employees had done, to how the day-to-day operations were managed, he was able to soak up a lot of practical ideas about how a law practice works.
Early on, he recognized that running a law practice is an entrepreneurial pursuit. Rather than seeing himself as someone who has a “job”, Barry has always seen himself as being someone who runs a business. It makes a difference!
His First Deal
Barry’s first deal as a lawyer involved finding a landlord and making a time for space arrangement. He paid a $100 a month for a desk space in the landlord’s office, and in exchange he provided about 15 hours a week of legal services. Barry strategically chose that office because there were 4-5 other lawyers using the suite. He was able to garner work from not only his own clients, but from picking up cases and clients for the more established lawyers who had high caseloads.
Using his negotiation skills and being willing to take assignments ensured that Barry was busy from day one. This is an excellent example of doing your due diligence, scouting the landscape, and understanding what opportunities are available.
The reason that early deal benefited Barry so much was that he wasn’t just exchanging time for space in a dead end area with minimal opportunity. It worked because he had put in the leg work to make sure that he would have room to grow, seize new opportunities, and expand beyond his current level.
Developing as a Deal-Maker
Eventually, Barry decided to develop a local neighborhood practice in Queens. As he grew his family, he expanded from real estate based clients to doing personal injury work. Although he was making more money, he realized he didn’t like that work. He learned a lot, but he wasn’t proud of what he was doing.
He was also having trouble working at volume within the highly inefficient New York court system.
Barry realized that he hated going up to Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn lawyers hated coming down to Queens. It was highly inefficient, and choosing between dealing with the subway or dealing with parking felt like a lose-lose situation. He came up with a plan, where lawyers could pay him to handle preliminary conferences, compliance conferences, motions, depositions, and more. Then, Barry created a cover letter and rolodex card, then built a direct mailing campaign. He sent 1,300 letters over 6 months, which resulted in 275 clients.
Many of these clients started using Barry regularly for their needs. They all thought it was great, and the word began to spread. Barry had a booming business on his hands, which resulted in a series of deals. He was able to leverage that campaign into massive business growth, as a result of being highly strategic, differentiating himself, and targeting law firms that were most likely to need his services.
When You Do Things, Things Happen
Barry hadn’t anticipated his practice going this direction, but he notes that when you do things, things happen. Taking action puts all sorts of opportunities into motion!
As Barry started reaching a high volume, he was able to bring other attorneys in who were willing to doing this work. He used bartering, and also arranged flat fees and exchanges. In addition, he got discounts when he was willing to pay promptly ; he knew that many lawyers dealt with clients who paid slowly or late. By showing he could pay on time, he found he could offer slightly lower rates.
As technology improved and more tools became available, Barry was able to become even more efficient. He was also innovative. His wife took QuickBooks and modified it to track who was doing the work, where, and when. He also used the estimates feature, which many weren’t using. Running his firm like an actual business was shocking to many people, but thinking outside the box and making business tools work for him enabled Barry to be extremely successful.
Doing Deals With Your Competitors
I love that Barry talks about how he worked with his competitors to make deals that included his competitors. Too often that approach is discounted, because we tend to want to keep direct competitors at an arm’s length.
As Barry’s success illustrates, however, you can grow, scale, and thrive with unexpected and innovative deal-making. That also reminded me of my episode with Damon Gersh. He also shared about how he worked with competitors to create deals that benefited all parties, to great success. In fact, Damon was able to compete against large, national competitors once he was able to help local businesses band together.
Barry noted that the high volume of cases, as well as the reality that he was sometimes representing both sides of the table, meant that working with other lawyers was absolutely necessary. Refusing to work with competitors would have severely limited his ability to grow, and he likely would have never experienced the success he’s experienced.
Unexpected and Innovative Deal-Making
One thing I loved was that Barry shared ideas he had that he never followed up on. I think when we see someone successful, we can sometimes assume that they had a clear path to the top. As we learn from Barry, however, his path was not only unexpected (and driven by taking action and adjusting as he went), it was also marked by choices he made about what to pursue, and what not to pursue.
As a deal-maker, you should be consistently coming up with ideas. Not because you’re going to pursue all of them, but because being in the habit of creative thinking prepares you to identify what ideas are worth pursuing.
Barry ended up being glad he never pursued his five families idea (listen in to hear more about that)….but he also enjoys looking back and remembering he had that idea in the first place.
Resisting the Deal
At some point, Barry was working long hours, and pushing himself extremely hard. He notes that he knew he could make deals – he could have decreased his work load – but he chose not to. Instead, he pushed forward, taking on more and more and working longer and longer hours.
Eventually, it fell apart: Barry had a heart attack, and wasn’t able to work at all for almost a full year.
Although many people thought the “pressure” had gotten to him, Barry realized that his real problem had come from all his pent up frustration around practice areas that he didn’t enjoy, and that actually caused him a lot of internal stress. He had been so weighed down, he hadn’t been able to enjoy any of his success.
As he recovered, he realized he needed to get rid of the cases that had been burdening him leading up to his heart attack. He let go of the cases that had been creating so much strife, made deals to allow others to take on parts of his practice that he had so deeply disliked, and transitioned into an area of law he truly enjoyed.
Over 15 years into his career, Barry transitioned into probate and estate planning. He was willing to learn a new speciality that felt like a better fit for his interests and lifestyle, and he deeply enjoyed picking it up. He also notes that it’s really not that hard to learn something new when you really want to.
At the end of the day, Barry has grown throughout is entire career. He loves what he does, because he hasn’t allowed himself to be pigeon holed. When he entered his career, he did things differently. He ran his practice differently, and he gave himself space to make deals, pivot when necessary, and work cases he was passionate about.
How can you do the same? What areas of your current business or career do you deeply dislike, and how could you pivot, grow, or change in order to prevent that from becoming your norm?
Go do that! After all, it’s not that hard to learn something new when you want to.
Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker. He is deeply passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.
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