- University of San Diego
Masters in Tax Laws 2002
- California Western School of Law
Juris Doctor 2001
- University of San Diego
B. A. in Accountancy 1998
- Laguna Blanca School
High School Class of ‘93
State Bar of California
United States Tax Court
Ever since I can remember I’ve envisioned myself practicing my trade within my own business. In retrospect, I have always believed that there is no better way to make a living than by serving others with the freedom of expression and creativity that comes with owning your own business.
I started my college studies in 1994 as a Business Administration major at the University of San Diego. Three years later I decided to take the more pragmatic approach and instead pursue a major in Accountancy, which only required taking a few additional classes. I planned to attend law school after college, but I figured an accounting degree was equivalent to a degree in Business Administration with the additional benefit of learning readily marketable skills I could fall back on if law school didn’t work out.
After graduating college in 1998, I postponed going to law school because I couldn’t turn down a unique and interesting job opportunity to work as a general manager of a small 6-aisle supermarket in the college town of Isla Vista, California. Due to poor management, the supermarket was on the brink of bankruptcy when it was purchased by the new owner who offered me the job. I found myself fresh out of college with total operational control of a business that needed to be resurrected back to life.
With a basic process-driven strategy of providing higher value than the competition, after two years as general manager I increased annual gross sales 600%, and my average workweek dropped from 80 hours to 15 hours. At that point I felt it was time for my next challenge. I moved back to San Diego and started law school in January of 2000.
I finished my law degree at California Western School of Law in December of 2001. To better prepare myself to plan large estates, I earned a master’s degree in taxation at the University of San Diego School of Law by December of 2002. Upon graduating I took the February 2003 California Bar Exam. By the beginning of 2004 I began working for an estate planning law firm in Santa Barbara, California. My time there was a very valuable experience. I learned how to practice sophisticated high-level estate planning and learned enough about the legal industry’s traditional law firm business model to make my first attempt at improving it.
The Santa Barbara firm’s service fees were above average, but well worth it for clients with large estates. The firm did indeed deliver high service value to its client base; the firm I later figured out could not deliver high service value to the prospective clients with more modest estates willing to hire young new lawyers. But as it turned out, neither could the average less-specialized estate planning firms.
With limited exceptions, the complexity of an estate plan is generally proportionate to the size of the estate. Therefore, in order to deliver high service value, estate planning fees should be proportionate to the size of an estate. But this was not the reality I encountered in the traditional estate planning legal industry. As my exposure to the industry’s work product grew, I noticed consumers often were paying for estate planning services that had no relation to the value they were receiving, either because the services over-planned, or didn’t plan enough. In both cases, clients were overpaying; either because they were paying for estate planning services they didn’t need or paying for estate planning services that were not sophisticated enough to meet their needs. Essentially, traditional estate planning services tended to over-plan smaller estates and under-plan larger estates – and this was the first low value proposition I sought to improve in order to stake my first claim in the legal industry. Before the end of 2005, I started my own law firm in Santa Barbara to market a new high–value proposition that did not exist in the traditional estate planning market: high-level estate planning services with the scalability to deliver high-value to estates of all sizes.
My new practice grew steadily for the following 2 years. With technology-aided efficiencies, TV and radio ads, and highly personalized service, I delivered high-quality planning advice to a market that was crying out for reasonably priced access to legal services. I increased service value not because I dramatically dropped my hourly rate, but because I could deliver estate plans efficiently.
In 2007, for the second time in my life I couldn’t turn down a job opportunity that I wasn’t looking for. While attending a tax and estate planning seminar in Las Vegas, I met a lawyer from a law firm in Oxnard, California, who 6 months later offered me a position as his firm’s tax attorney. The position was perfect. It gave me an opportunity to reengage in the practice of planning large estates, while having the autonomy to serve my new and existing clients independently.
I was with the Oxnard firm for 7 years. My time there was special, and I will always be grateful for the partners’ professionalism, generosity and support. Most important of all, there is where I met my wife, Nicole. Our relationship blossomed into something very special, and we were engaged 18 months later. We married in 2013 and moved into a house in Ventura we bought and remodeled together – where we still reside today with our three sons: James, Landon and Evan.
Departing the Oxnard firm meant relieving the pressure of meeting annual financial performance targets. That relief allowed me to dedicate more time to developing a new service model. The details of my new the service model were not clear to me back then, but my initial Vison was to provide clients more cost-effective services that integrated legal, business, and accounting solutions. In January of 2014, my clients and I moved to a firm in Ventura where I was able to run my practice with full independence solely in exchange for a percentage of my gross receipts. During 2014, I purposefully spent more constructive time with clients: learning more about them and their businesses. I also researched and tested new ways to implement technology-powered productivity into my practice.
After one year with the Ventura firm, the inflexibility of the traditional law firm business model drove me out once again. I ran a very self-sufficient practice and concluded that the value of my annual contributions was too high compared to the value of firm resources I consumed.
I then joined the law firm of a forward-thinking estate planning specialist who believed in the value of implementing and improving strategy to achieve business success. He even had a business coach out of Pittsburgh on retainer who helped me develop ideas for new business and service delivery models.
I spent most of 2015 building a new digital infrastructure that could support innovative forms of technology-powered productivity and collaboration. The primary component was a family of integrated multi-purpose software, which enabled me to successfully launch the service model I started envisioning back in 2013 when I left the Oxnard firm. By 2016, I was offering clients 6 annual service plans specifically designed to meet their reoccurring estate, tax and business planning needs. These new plans provided clients what they have come to expect in today’s new socio-economic environment: greater efficiency, price predictability, and cost-effectiveness.
By the end of 2016, my Vision and the Vision of the firm grew incompatible, and we ended our partnership. When I first began my quest to improve the traditional law firm business model in 2005, the long-term sustainability of traditional law firms was not in question. But by the end of 2016, it became clear to me that improving the traditional law firm business model was no longer merely for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage, but absolutely essential to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving legal industry. Consequently, it made little sense for me to join a law firm again – where I would likely find strong resistance to change. Instead, for the second time in my life, to effectively introduce a new service model into the market I choose to form my own law firm.
I have wondered over the years why the business side of practicing law is not a subject taught in law school. There seems to be an unwritten rule in the legal industry that business skills and best practices are not necessary to practice law. Why else would an overwhelming majority of lawyers enter the profession without any formal business training or experience? Why else does the traditional law firm business model fail to observe the most basic business principles?
As it turns out, there is a perfectly good explanation to why the legal industry has historically ignored innovation and resisted using best practices. Lawyers have had a long-standing monopoly on the provision of legal services, and as a result, the traditional way of doing business for law firms has been extremely profitable. And to avoid disrupting the traditional production and distribution of these profits, equity owners under the traditional model have resisted significant change or innovation. Further, a monopoly provides no incentives to deliver better, more efficient, or more valuable services to clients. The monopoly over legal services has allowed traditional law firms to thrive in the marketplace despite providing services that are overpriced, inefficient, difficult to access, non-transparent, slow and outdated. But now, traditional law firms are experiencing shrinking profit margins and loss of market share year after year? This is largely due to the growing power of technology, alternative legal service providers, and the changing behavior of consumers. The legal industry is drastically evolving, and the rules are changing. Consumers have begun rejecting the inefficiencies of the traditional law firm model. Law firms that fail to adapt to this new reality will eventually lose their clients to law firms that do.
Survival of the traditional law firm depends on providing more value to clients. Ironically, that is precisely what the traditional law firm business model has been systemically designed not to do. The traditional law firm business model evolved and thrived without the need to provide higher service value, and as a result, the traditional model is challenged with an innate incapacity to do so. A sustainable value proposition in the new normal requires a new business model that delivers effective legal service utilizing new technologies, processes, and alternative staffing models. In short: the right resources, doing the right work, in the most cost effective and efficient manner. This new paradigm encompassing innovative business models is referred to in the legal industry as “NewLaw”, a term coined in 2015 by a legal industry consultant, defined as: “any model, process, or tool that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed.”
In retrospect, implementing “NewLaw” into my law practice has been a long-term objective since opening my first law office in 2005. To me, it’s just plain good-old business sense to find ways to eliminate industry inefficiencies. The NewLaw concept is still in its early stages, where NewLaw firms currently make up only about 1% of the market in the United States. However, based on worldwide forecast studies, an article posted on www.remakinglawfirms.com, states:
“If done right, NewLaw firms will destroy the underlying business models of most mid-market traditional firms. Process, systems and technology can bring so much efficiency to the provision of legal services. Traditional law firms are, as a whole, completely under-equipped to deliver this revolution, both from a cultural and a business model perspective. In 20 years’ time, NewLaw providers will have captured up to 30 percent of the broader legal services market. Traditional mid-tiers will have collapsed. Only those truly differentiated traditional providers will still be in business.”
My primary long-term business goal is to build The Ventura Legacy Group, APC (“VLG”) into a NewLaw law firm. VLG will employ a collaborative process-driven and technology-rich business infrastructure for attorneys with the right competencies to practice law utilizing new forms of productivity that meet new consumer demands. VLG will entice suitable law firms to adopt compatible business infrastructures in order to facilitate higher levels of integrated client services. Lawyers working with VLG will not only need competent legal skills, but also good service management skills, effective leadership, and proficient digital data processing abilities. VLG’s long-term growth strategy includes opening-up other offices to meet the foreseeable increased demand for NewLaw business infrastructures.
Growth and change are necessary for all things to thrive – including business organizations. While steadily working towards building a better business in the future, I remain grounded in the present with a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of working with great clients. Over the years I have built strong client relations with many truly impressive people who I admire and respect. Playing a role in their success stories provides a lot of meaning to my professional life and it is perhaps what I find most rewarding.