The Business Side Of Law: Luis Salazar Of Salazar Law On 5 Things You Need To Create Or Lead A Successful Law Firm

July 3, 2024 Posted in Firm News

This article was originally published in Authority Magazine

Law school primarily prepares lawyers for the practice of law. But leading or starting a law firm requires so much more than that. It requires the entrepreneurial skills that any CEO would need to run a business; How to manage personnel, how to hire and fire, how to generate leads, how to advertise, how to manage finances, etc. On the business side of law, what does an attorney need to know to create a successful and thriving law practice? To address these questions, we are talking to successful law firm principals who can share stories and insights from their experience about the “5 Things You Need To Create Or Lead A Successful Law Firm”.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Luis Salazar.

Widely recognized for his accomplishments in navigating complex financial restructuring and litigating high-stakes, bet-the-company disputes, firm founder Luis Salazar of the boutique litigation firm Salazar Law LLP in Miami focuses on trial and litigation, and reorganization and bankruptcy matters. Clients in industries such as aviation, real estate, hospitality, and retail rely on his deep strategic thinking and tenacity, and a track record of success showcases his ability to deliver winning outcomes for their most-demanding situations. Luis’s emphasis on personalized service and strategic thinking drives innovation, which led him to develop the Lawgile® Legal Project Management method to maximize productivity and deliver rapid, high-quality results for small- to medium-sized business clients, earning him recognition from the New York Times as an innovative early adopter of artificial intelligence (AI) to increase the effectiveness of his law practice.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory” and how you ended up where you are? Specifically, we’d love to hear the story of how you began to lead your practice.

You can say that leading my own law firm has its roots in our family’s small business. I was 9 when I began working with my father at our family dry-cleaning business in Washington Heights, New York. I will never forget the years I spent working shoulder-to-shoulder with him, 14 hours a day, six days a week, fighting for our piece of the American dream. Even after becoming a lawyer and working at a Big Law firm, I couldn’t shake that entrepreneurial bug: Deep down, I wanted to do my own thing. I admired how my dad grew his own business, developed loyal customers, and really made a connection with everyone who walked into his shop. I decided to launch my own firm so I could bring that same commitment to my clients. I remember when I told my father that I was leaving my cushy big firm job to start my own firm. He was so proud I was following in his footsteps.

I’m a huge fan of mentorship throughout one’s career. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Who has been your biggest mentor? What was the most valuable lesson you learned from them?

You are 100% correct — I wouldn’t be where I am without several wonderful mentors. My biggest professional mentor has been Leo Leyva, Esq., a partner at Cole Schotz, the first law firm I worked at. Leo taught me to hustle harder and be more responsive than other lawyers, but to also appreciate the joy and excitement of being a lawyer.

From completing your degree to opening a practice and becoming a business owner, your path was most likely challenging. Can you share a story about one of your greatest struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

My greatest professional struggle has been to overcome the inflexible aspects of the legal industry — a resistance to innovation, cynicism about what we as lawyers do, unwillingness to share information and opportunities with colleagues, and lack of inclusion. I started my own firm to rethink the way we practice law and give my team members an environment where they can excel as lawyers and feel fulfilled as professionals. I adopted a project management-based culture that gives everyone at my firm the tools needed to succeed and to maximize our efficiency and impact. We use Kanban boards, have daily stand-up Scrum meetings, and rely on our Lawgile® project management platform for managing client matters.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

My father used to say, “Drop everything and take care of the customer. They make our lives possible.” He instilled in me that customer-centric mentality. It made me appreciate the importance of our clients, their concerns, and the service we provide them. I think it’s why my team and I go above and beyond what’s expected to serve our clients.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

I love what I do! From our morning stand-up meetings to the roll-up-your-sleeves late nights, I am excited and energized by the challenges my team helps our clients resolve. The clients we choose to work with have worked hard to earn what they have, and there is no way in hell that I am going to let someone — anyone — take it away from them. For me, the fight is personal.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

One of our more interesting cases involves a tight-knit wealthy family accused of committing fraud and facing criminal charges and a civil suit seeking nearly $30 million in damages. The trials are virtually back-to-back. They are counting on us to clear their family name and overcome staggering odds. This is exactly the kind of client and case that I founded my team to serve.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing the business of law. Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

Salazar Law advises and serves businesses and individuals confronting bet-the-company financial crises and restructurings, high-stakes business litigation, cryptocurrency disputes, and government investigations. We are known for taking on impossible situations, turning them around, and winning. We strive to know our clients’ business, be highly responsive, be proactive in our engagements, and exceed each client’s expectations. Our lawyers, who have obtained more than $1 billion in judgments and settlements, and restructured more than $10 billion in debt, provide comprehensive strategies designed to meet our clients’ goals.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I tell my team three things about being successful at law.

One, banish cynicism. You have to love your clients, empathize with their struggles, and believe in them. When my cases are done, I find I don’t have former clients but newfound friends.

Two, constantly improve. Your skills are never good enough, so always seek improvement — in your writing, presentation skills, negotiation skills, everything. I remember that I was unhappy with my writing skills, which are fundamental to being a successful lawyer. I applied myself over the years to improving, including taking courses, reading books about writing, and endless editing of my work. I remember feeling I had obtained some mastery in legal writing when I submitted a motion that I thought was very well-written with a particularly powerful introduction. That afternoon, at a Bar holiday party, the judge in the case walked into the large and very crowded ballroom, made a beeline to me, and said with a smile: “I read your motion.”

Three, over-prepare. I have found that my greatest successes happen when I over-prepare for everything, from meeting clients to court hearings to negotiations. You never wing it.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

I was fortunate enough to attend Columbia University School of Law — one of the top law schools in the country. I think it made a huge difference to my success because doors opened for me that otherwise may not have been open to a kid from Newark. I still remember my constant surprise at the many great job offers I received after graduation. But I quickly learned that all the fancy diplomas in the world don’t mean a thing if you don’t have the drive to work hard and outperform the competition. I saw many of my fellow attorneys from great schools fail to advance in their careers, or win clients, or get lead roles in cases because they simply took their success for granted. You have to stay hungry.

Managing being a law practitioner and a business owner is a constant balancing act. How do you manage both roles?

I rely heavily on my team, and I designed Lawgile® Legal Project Management as a platform that empowers everyone at my firm to contribute to the success of our cases and our practice. I trust my team and I give them all the responsibility they want to handle. Again and again, they rise to the challenge and work to make our firm the best it can be.

Can you help articulate the entrepreneurial skills a lawyer needs to run and lead a successful law firm?

Yes: You need to be client-focused and you need always be marketing your services. New clients can come from any interaction.

As a business owner, you spend most of your time working IN your practice, seeing clients. When and how do you shift to working on your practice (marketing, upgrading systems, growing your practice, etc.)? How much time do you spend on the business elements?

I dedicate time to the business of law every morning, and I spend time during weekend mornings on longer-term, strategic issues. I make a point to meet with my “board of advisors” — my accountant, my marketing team, my sales coach, fellow professional service firm owners — outside the office to have focused discussions about business issues.

Can you share some specific, non-intuitive insights from your personal experience about how a leader of a law firm should:

  • Manage personnel: Shut up and listen. You may be the founder and owner, but you don’t know everything. Listen especially to your team — they are bursting with ideas, and you just need to step back and make space for them to speak and lead.
  • Hire and fire: I hate to say it, but the old saying is true: Fire fast. I’ve learned that, if you need to terminate someone, be short and to the point.
  • Generate leads: Something that is well-known to businesspeople, but eludes lawyers, is that sales and business generation is a process. It can be measured and improved. To be a successful rainmaker, you have to understand the sales process, create and track and sales pipeline, and close on opportunities. I confess that I was in that same situation until I hired a sales coach.
  • Advertise: The money you want to spend on advertising is better spent on entertaining key referral sources and clients. Honestly, grabbing a cup of coffee with another great lawyer gets better ROI than most sponsorships.
  • Manage finances: Your accountant should be your trusted advisor and confidant. You may think of legal rights and causes of action, but they think of dollars and cents. My relationship with mine has been invaluable to my business.

What are your “5 Things an Attorney Needs to Know to Create a Successful and Thriving Law Practice”?

1. Hustle. From getting clients to winning cases, there is no downtime. The minute you rest on your laurels, the minute your practice stagnates. When I was starting to grow my client base, I was constantly networking, constantly testing my sales skills. One year, I spoke at 25 different conferences. All that hustle paid off — I still get referrals from people I met back then.

2. Loyalty. You have to instill loyalty in your team if you want your firm to thrive. In particular, I mean loyalty to your fellow team members. If you commit to getting something done, your team members are counting on you to come through. I remember working one late night when our paralegal had also stayed long after regular hours, struggling to file an important document in the face of tech issues. One by one, every member of our firm came back to the office to help, without anyone asking.

3. Know-how. Just trying hard is not enough to be successful. You have to have the know-how — the experience, the writing skills, the presentation skills, in-depth legal experience and knowledge — to really succeed. Always work to expand and deepen the competitive advantage that come with greater, deeper skills.

4. Respect. You have to banish cynicism. Over the course of my career, I have heard too many lawyers make cynical comments about judges, jurors, opposing counsel, and clients. That kind of thinking cheapens everything we do and is self-defeating. I don’t allow it at my firm. I have had many opposing counsel refer matters to me because of the caliber of our work, but more importantly, the respect we showed them.

5. Forgiving Yourself. You are going to make many mistakes. It is critical to learn to forgive yourself and remember that tomorrow, you have the chance to begin the task anew. I made mistakes early on when partnering with other lawyers who didn’t really see eye to eye about my vision for the practice. Now I make sure that my team members are true believers and kindred spirits.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I don’t think I have that kind of monumental ideas in me. I like to keep it simple — tend my garden and ensure the happiness and well-being of those in it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Our firm website showcases our team and how we break the mold in all our work: I am also active on LinkedIn here.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Contact Us