$2 Billion recovered in the past 10 years. 10,000 active cases across eight locations. Lawyer of the Year and scores of accolades. Brett Schreiber, Partner at Singleton Schreiber, credits his success in trial and business to one thing: being present. Brett is able to tap into flow states so often because he is both clear on his limitations and knows how to put the best people in positions to do the rest. From hiring to referrals and serving the community Brett wants whats best fro everyone involved. He understands that we are all in this together.
Today, he shares how to keep that “small firm” feel when your caseload is in the tens of thousands, as well as the tools a firm of that size uses to keep the train on the tracks. And why parenting can make you a better trial attorney and what mindfulness has to do with running a successful firm.
- Develop better habits. We are the sum of our daily actions. To get to where you want to be, pay attention to the little choices that can make you 1% better.
- Understand your limitations. Fill in the gaps by bringing on people who are great at what they do. So you can do more of what you’re good at.
- Evaluate and iterate. As you scale be willing to reevaluate the systems you have set up. what served you months ago might not get the job done today or in the future with an increased caseload.
Maria Monroy, LawRank, Brett Schreiber, Singleton Schreiber
Brett Schreiber (00:01):
I think the greatest lesson is to do a better job of being more present. Trial is probably the only opportunity that I get to be fully and completely present. In that case, I’m not worrying about the next witness.
Maria Monroy (00:15):
I think you mentioned that you’ve helped 10,000 people?
Brett Schreiber (00:18):
We currently have 10,000 clients.
Maria Monroy (00:20):
You have 10,000 active cases.
Brett Schreiber (00:22):
Maria Monroy (00:23):
Brett Schreiber (00:24):
What are you all doing when they’re no longer your clients? And what we realized is, not enough. You got to be a little bit of a wild eyed pistol shooter who’s not afraid to die, right? I mean, you have to have that.
Maria Monroy (00:39):
This is what I mean when I say that ego’s good.
Brett Schreiber (00:41):
I think that San Diego legal market is very much that. People are not afraid to share and to come together, because we are truly better when we are together.
Maria Monroy (00:56):
In law school, attorneys are taught to challenge everything, tear things apart, break them down. But the qualities that make lawyers great can be some of the worst for running a business. At every stage of growth, running a business and practicing law can feel overwhelming. And what happens when you try to add life and family to the mix? It can feel nearly impossible. You don’t have to do this alone. I’m Maria Monroy, co-founder and President of LawRank, a leading SEO agency for ambitious law firms. Each week we hear from industry leaders on what it really takes to run a law firm, from marketing to manifestation, because success lies in the balance of life and law. We’re here to help you tip the scales.
Partner at Singleton Schreiber, Brett was recently ranked best lawyer of the year in 2022, by Best Lawyers in America. His firm has recovered over two billion dollars in the past decade. I love that his passion comes through in every aspect of his business, from growth to community building. Today, Brett offers insight on how to keep that small firm feel when your caseload is in the 10s of thousands, the tools a firm of that size uses to keep the train on the tracks, why parenting can make you a better trial attorney, and what mindfulness has to do with running a successful firm. To start things off, Brett explains how he found his partners.
Brett Schreiber (02:35):
It’s interesting, Jerry Singleton and I had been collaborating on wildfire cases for almost a decade, since the fires that had happened in San Diego. We knew of each other, and I was ancillarily, if that’s a word, involved in fire litigation back in the day. What ended up happening was, one of the guys at my old shop, who was one of the founding partners, he’s in his mid 70s, started having some health issues, and started winding it down. I was asked to assume the mantle of taking over our role in fire litigation. Jerry and I just started working more collaboratively and closely, and found that we had a very similar worldview. Like I said, I had one adult job. I had spent 16 years at my old firm coming up as a law clerk and associate, and then later as a partner.
But the guys and gals who I was partners with there, several of them were in their mid 70s. I just turned 42, the next five years look very different to us. And that was no knock on any of us, that’s just a consequence of the bend of the space time continuum. Jerry’s a few years older than me, but we saw the world much the same way, we had a lot of the same goals, we really believed in coming together for all the right reasons. One of the things that also made a lot of sense for us, he didn’t have the serious injury single event piece that I had, and needed some people with some more trial chops. We wanted to really work and we are working to change some of the mass tort model, which is often so lawyer driven, not consumer driven. For all of those reasons, it just made sense. Then, from there, we have just scaled up and keep adding people.
Maria Monroy (04:26):
So your values aligned?
Brett Schreiber (04:28):
Our values aligned 100%.
Maria Monroy (04:30):
And is there one person that’s responsible for hiring and finding the right talent, how does that work?
Brett Schreiber (04:36):
It’s fairly collaborative, but Jerry’s a true blue managing partner. I mean, we joke that he makes the People’s Republic of China look like it lacks ambition. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anybody who dreams bigger than that dude. He’s always focused on that, he is focused on the next big thing, he is looking at it at a big level, and I think one of his superpowers has actually been finding people. He is really good at seeing talent and I feel like I’m pretty good, but I will tell you, he’s better. That has allowed us to bring in some really good people to work in our various divisions, in our various practice groups, and just allow them all to thrive. I mean, we have these biweekly, we call them leadership lunches where all the various heads of various departments come together, and our last few, I swear, everybody’s looking around in the room and going, “Whoa, this is some shit. Pinch me.”
Maria Monroy (05:39):
That’s really cool.
Brett Schreiber (05:40):
It is cool, it’s really cool. What’s even cooler about it is, we all know, we’re just getting warmed up. I don’t even feel that this rocket ship has even launched yet; we are still on the launch pad right now, with all of the smoke and fire coming out of the boosters, but I don’t think we have even started to take off yet. Jerry oversees wildfires and mass tort at a pretty high level, but what we both recognized is we’re not operations managers. We’re a lot of things, but that stuff is just not the stuff that we do good. It was really important to the both of us to build a firm, and I think we’ve been successful doing this the last couple years, of bringing people together who are uniquely good at what they do. If you let people who are really good at what they do, do what they do, it’s amazing that it tends to work out pretty well for everybody involved. Like I said, our operations people love the operations stuff. I can’t stand that shit.
Maria Monroy (06:47):
Me neither, it’s fucking awful.
Brett Schreiber (06:49):
Maria Monroy (06:50):
My husband’s really good at operations, he handles all that. You can’t even get me to do anything, that’s just not what I do. Delegation is really important, especially delegation of the things that you don’t want to do-
Brett Schreiber (07:04):
Maria Monroy (07:04):
… because you’re not going to do them well.
Brett Schreiber (07:06):
No, you’re not, and that’s not to say that we don’t all have to shovel some shit from time to time-
Maria Monroy (07:10):
No, you have to.
Brett Schreiber (07:11):
… because everybody does, but what we really try to focus it on, and the way we’ve staffed it, and the way we’ve built it, is that if, 80% of the time, you can do what you do well, then the 20% you’re going to shovel some shit, but that’s life. That’s the practice of anything, that’s any business. We have most of our people spending about 80% of our time doing the stuff that they do really well.
Maria Monroy (07:35):
And that they love.
Brett Schreiber (07:35):
Maria Monroy (07:38):
Do you know what his hiring process is like?
Brett Schreiber (07:41):
Yeah. For the partner level, and that’s the other thing, we have both recognized the importance of middle management. I cannot be involved in every hiring decisions for all of our various teams, but if you put really good people who you trust in those positions, and you allow them the freedom to do what they do well, then typically good things happen. What we have done is, I feel like we’ve done a really good job of building our cabinet. You’ve got the department of energy, and the department of interior, and department of defense. We have brought in a lot of really good people and we have then allowed those people to then build out their teams as they see fit.
Maria Monroy (08:34):
How many partners?
Brett Schreiber (08:36):
We have seven officially. We have another council track, which is more of our leadership lawyers, who maybe don’t have an equity interest. But all in, we’ve got a dozen or so lawyers who are in what I would call a leadership role, and then another almost 20 who support them.
Maria Monroy (08:57):
How many people roll up to you directly?
Brett Schreiber (09:00):
My nuclear team, on the second event PI, is about a dozen, depending on who shows up every day. Invariably, I’m involved in a lot of the bigger cases, both in fire and in mass tort, so I work with all of those teams. That is dozens and dozens more of people, depending on who shows up each day, and what I’m working on.
Maria Monroy (09:24):
And are all the partners responsible for bringing in new business, or no?
Brett Schreiber (09:28):
Yeah, and I think that’s how we’ve more defined our partners versus our council track, is at the end of the day, it’s got to be people who can generate business. Yes, they all have a role, and some of them are better at it than others, and some of our partners are more focused on… it’s not all about hustling individual cases. We brought in a partner who is in our Northern California office, and she has decades of experience representing public entities. When she goes and pitches a board of supervisors, she’s really good at that. I don’t know how the Hell to talk to those people, but she knows how to talk their talk. She generates business in her own way, it’s just different than the way you would traditionally think about business generation in a typical law firm setting.
Maria Monroy (10:17):
Awesome. I think you’ve mentioned that you’ve helped 10,000 people?
Brett Schreiber (10:22):
We currently have 10,000 clients.
Maria Monroy (10:24):
You have 10,000 active cases.
Brett Schreiber (10:27):
Maria Monroy (10:27):
Brett Schreiber (10:28):
Maria Monroy (10:30):
That’s amazing, congrats.
Brett Schreiber (10:30):
Maria Monroy (10:32):
For all of your past clients, how do you stay top of mind?
Brett Schreiber (10:35):
That’s actually something that we’re talking about right now that we need to do a better job of. One of my new additions who will come on in the next week or so, is someone who we’re bringing in, and her official title is Chief Client Officer. She is the connection between the director of marketing and operations, and oversees it at a very holistic level. One of the things she has already pointed out to us, is that issue. What are you all doing when they’re no longer your clients? What we realized is, not enough. I think we’ve done a great job of building out systems and processes for our existing clients, but we’re not doing well enough following up and staying in touch. We have a newsletter that goes out, but it’s not enough and we need to do that better, because those people can be your ambassadors, and that’s a piece that I know, for the constant improvement vein of what we’re doing, that we need to do a better job of.
Maria Monroy (11:42):
It’s interesting, because I had Jen Gore on a few weeks ago, and she started doing these social media videos, somewhat silly and informative videos, and she said to me, “You know what was interesting about it, Maria, is that once I did them for long enough, they actually helped our referrals more than anything.” Prior clients, because they started seeing her on Instagram, Facebook, and stuff like that, she became top of mind. One correlation that they noticed is that their referrals increased. It really got me thinking, what are some ways that our clients can stay top of mind for their past clients? It’s something I’ve been thinking about as well, because they they already trust you.
Brett Schreiber (12:36):
Right, and that’s 90% of it right there. Like I said, we’re absolutely a work in progress on that front, and we’ve got a good CRM-
Maria Monroy (12:45):
What do you use?
Brett Schreiber (12:48):
It’s a combination. My primary case management platform that I’m now moving the entire firm into is File Vine.
Maria Monroy (12:54):
Awesome, we love File Vine.
Brett Schreiber (12:55):
A lot of our intake still runs in through Hub Spot.
Maria Monroy (12:58):
I use Hub Spot.
Brett Schreiber (12:59):
Yeah, and then we’re making all of that stuff talk to each other.
Maria Monroy (13:03):
What about Lead Docket? You didn’t look into it?
Brett Schreiber (13:05):
I did and it didn’t work.
Maria Monroy (13:08):
Brett Schreiber (13:09):
We liked the Hub Spot interface better. We did try Lead Docket for a minute, and then ultimately had to shit can it.
Maria Monroy (13:13):
You’re one of the only firms using Hub Spot. You’re probably also using it for your newsletter?
Brett Schreiber (13:18):
Yeah, we use it for all things. Something we had to work to make everything talk together, because we brought different groups together, we brought different practices together. That, too, remains a work in progress, but we’ve made a tremendous effort to, going forward, be very intentional about it, and it’s obviously key. You got to have the data, you’ve got to have the contacts, and then it’s a matter of what you do with it. We’ve definitely made some steps, we’ve been intentional, we’ve been iterative in how we’ve approached it, but we need to do a better job.
Maria Monroy (13:50):
Progress, not perfection.
Brett Schreiber (13:51):
Maria Monroy (13:52):
Yeah, that’s crucial. You have four kids, right?
Brett Schreiber (13:57):
Maria Monroy (13:58):
You’re running this huge firm and you have four kids, so you’re busy.
Brett Schreiber (14:01):
Maria Monroy (14:03):
What’s that like?
Brett Schreiber (14:04):
It’s fun. My wife, who’s a psychologist by trade, but has been a stay at home mom for the last 10 years, because every two years we keep having children, and then after the fourth one we went out and got a golden retriever puppy.
Maria Monroy (14:19):
She must be a saint.
Brett Schreiber (14:22):
She is, and she works way harder than I do.
Maria Monroy (14:25):
I’m sure she does.
Brett Schreiber (14:25):
Yeah, it’s not even-
Maria Monroy (14:27):
Four kids and a dog, that sounds like a lot.
Brett Schreiber (14:30):
It’s no joke. Just the fact that we got here this weekend without anyone, there is an actual Excel spreadsheet that had to be created just so that grandma was able to get everyone to where they need to go, to their various events, back and forth to school, and just to basically keep everyone alive for 48 hours. It’s a heavy lift. What I always say is, with four kids and all the stuff that we’ve got going on, when it’s good, it’s the greatest thing ever; when it’s bad, it is a shit show of epic proportions. But on balance, it’s a lot more good than it isn’t, so it works.
Maria Monroy (15:12):
Talk about processes, there’s a spreadsheet for the kids.
Brett Schreiber (15:15):
Dude, we’ve never had to do that, but they’re all old enough now, and now that the world has reopened, they’ve all got stuff. That was one of the interesting things about Covid, which is actually interesting from the law firm build out perspective. We did this during Covid, or at least started it during Covid, and that was actually one of the blessings of that time, because it allowed us to pause. The great pause was really great for our business development side. Again, I’m using going trial to trial and I don’t have the time to sit and focus on those kinds of things. With the courthouses closed for a year, we were able to do that. It was the same thing with my kids, I worked from home for a year and a half.
I got to have lunch with my kids 95% of the time, and that is something that I know I will never be able to do again. While I recognize that, that is a statement of privilege, that I was able to do those things, it was a difficult time for a lot of people. It’s not as if every day was Disneyland at my house during all of this, but it really gave us the opportunity to really be intentional about what we do as lawyers, what we do as business owners, what we were doing as parents, and just be present, and reevaluate. Like I said, there was definitely some lemons in all of that, but there was absolutely some lemonade to get squeezed out.
Maria Monroy (16:53):
Absolutely. I think it was a scary time, but it was also a special time. In a weird way, there was something… and I get it, I get that it was an awful time for a lot of people, but my experience was that there was some magic to it.
Brett Schreiber (17:07):
Maria Monroy (17:09):
I remember three months into it, I was like, okay, this isn’t going away, and I don’t want to come out of this and say that I didn’t do something new, that I didn’t become more knowledgeable, that I didn’t become better. One of the things that I did during Covid, is I started working out. I never worked out my whole life, and now I’m addicted to it, I went this morning. It’s been two years now, I love it.
Brett Schreiber (17:34):
We are nothing but a consequence of our habits and we are simply a byproduct of what our habits are, personally and professionally. I agree. I would like to say I worked out every day during Covid. I started drinking a lot, for a period-
Maria Monroy (17:48):
Me too. That was a bad thing of Covid, I did pick up that awful habit.
Brett Schreiber (17:53):
But then I got over it.
Maria Monroy (17:54):
I’m getting over it.
Brett Schreiber (17:55):
Me too, it’s a work in progress. We’re all a work in progress.
Maria Monroy (17:57):
We’ll have a drink together.
Brett Schreiber (18:00):
Of course, we’re in Vegas, come on. It’s true, it was a special time, and it was a unique time, and if you didn’t use it as a chance to look in the mirror, step on the scale, whatever, pick your metaphor, then it was an opportunity lost. I think a lot of us who were able to do that have thankfully come out on the sunny side of the street.
Maria Monroy (18:23):
Absolutely. For me, I was so afraid initially, and when that fear subsided, that’s when I was like, “Oh, shit, I need to make something of this, because I can’t control it.” It just is what it is, right? I want to ask you, has becoming a parent helped you in any way be a better trial lawyer?
Brett Schreiber (18:41):
100%. What the greatest lesson, when I think back on this last decade, that I have taken from parenting, and especially raising little ones. I’ve got 11, nine, seven, four, and what you realize is one of the gifts, and I think one of the greatest teaching lessons, and kids provide us, is that they are living in a series of present moments. What I mean by that is, when my four year old, when he throws a tantrum and has an absolutely shit show of a whatever, throws himself on the ground snotting and crying, and all that stuff, 30 seconds later he’s moved on and I’m still pissed. I’m still holding on to that, like, “God, you were such an asshole.” But he has moved on, and I’ve seen that with each of them, and it’s interesting, because I’m seeing that with my second grader. It’s about that age where they learn days of the week and the months of the year, and actually, a part of us dies when that happens, because so much of our anxiety and so much of our stress in life is because we are always thinking about what has happened, or what will happen-
Maria Monroy (20:06):
That’s where we live. We live in the past or in the future.
Brett Schreiber (20:09):
Right, and we very rarely have that moment of ohm, where we are truly just here. I see it as my older ones now are asking me, “When do you get back? Oh, that’s Sunday.” They think about those things, and that carries with it a lot of stress and anxiety, just because we are looking at time in this linear fashion. The thing that, I think, is the greatest lesson, and that we all need to be reminded of, is to do a better job of being more present, and that is what being a trial lawyer and trying cases… I think the singular reason why I’ve had any modicum of success in this business, is that trial is probably the only opportunity that I get to be fully and completely present in that case. I’m not worrying about the next witness, I’m not worrying about the witnesses from yesterday, I’m not worrying about my closing argument. When I am there, if I’m doing my opening, doing my close, taking on whoever, I’m there, I am all there, and I’m not worried about all the rest of the stuff. That’s where the magic happens.
Maria Monroy (21:21):
That’s so funny you say that, because I was talking to Joe Fried yesterday, and we were talking about when he’s in trial, and I was like, “Do you go into flow?”
He smiled and goes, “Absolutely.” That’s exactly what you’re describing right now, being in flow in that moment.
Brett Schreiber (21:39):
100%. Not to overstate the thing, but when you find that zen, that zone, that flow, it’s what basketball players talk about when the hoop looks six times bigger and the ball feels that much smaller. That’s when we’re clicking on all cylinders and it’s not easy to get there, and when you’re there, it’s temporary, but I think that’s part of the draw. That’s one of the reasons I get excited to go back into trial. Yeah, it’s an adrenaline rush, yeah, there’s an ego stroke, there’s those things-
Maria Monroy (22:19):
No, an ego stroke?
Brett Schreiber (22:21):
Yeah, believe it or not. But it really gives you a chance to just be.
Maria Monroy (22:28):
I find this fascinating, and I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in San Diego, or my bias, but I think a lot of the San Diego lawyers, PI lawyers specifically, are so amazing, and you guys seem to have such a close friendship, and it seems like you guys actually like one another. Why do you think that is, and do you agree?
Brett Schreiber (22:53):
Yes, I agree 100%. I think one of the reasons is because we, as I’m dressed today, we don’t wear shoes. I think our barefootedness, our flip floppedness, unites us. I think there is a lot of truth to that. I think the San Diego legal market, because I’ve got cases all over, and I do all the state trial lawyer stuff, and so you see the different communities, and you see what is and isn’t a sense of community. I think what San Diego has going for it, is it is truly a small town inside of a big city.
Maria Monroy (23:31):
It is, it’s the weirdest thing. I can’t go anywhere without running into someone.
Brett Schreiber (23:33):
Maria Monroy (23:33):
It’s the weirdest thing in the world.
Brett Schreiber (23:36):
It is, and we all know that, and so we’re all on that loop where we’re going to see each other, and we’re going to cross paths. I think people genuinely believe, more so there than any other legal community that I’ve had any experience with, especially in the single event personal injury side of things, that there are enough cases to go around.
Maria Monroy (23:58):
Brett Schreiber (23:59):
And there are, unfortunately. Unfortunately enough shit happens that there’s enough to go around, and you don’t have to be an asshole. I don’t know why that bar has to be set so low, but that’s really all it is.
Maria Monroy (24:15):
You guys are so nice. It’s the weirdest thing, I don’t get how so many PI lawyers out of San Diego are so nice. I’m sure you guys, if need be, would not be that nice, but day to day, you guys are so kind. It’s so weird to me.
Brett Schreiber (24:34):
It’s a special place for that reason. Maybe it’s the water, maybe it’s the fact that we’re close to the beach-
Maria Monroy (24:41):
But LA has a beach.
Brett Schreiber (24:45):
And there’s definitely a totally different vibe as far as it’s legal community is concerned, but I think there is this rising tide notion, that we recognize that if one of us do well, then that helps everybody. Put it this way, I think if we could distill that down to what that is and bottle it, we wouldn’t be sitting here because we would just be selling that to lawyers everywhere.
Maria Monroy (25:11):
Yeah, I was going to ask, can we-
Brett Schreiber (25:13):
Yeah, if we could figure out a way to do that, copyright it, and bottle it and sell it, that would be great, but it’s just a certain… it’s an overused phrase, but there’s a certain synergy that exists in the San Diego community, that I just think is unique and special. There are a lot of great lawyers and listen, there’s plenty of ego.
Maria Monroy (25:36):
I think you need an ego to be a trial lawyer.
Brett Schreiber (25:40):
You do, it requires a certain level of ego strength.
Maria Monroy (25:43):
I like my ego, I think ego has such a negative connotation, but I think it can be used for good.
Brett Schreiber (25:51):
Maria Monroy (25:52):
You just have to check it a little bit.
Brett Schreiber (25:53):
Exactly, that’s entirely right. Despite whatever people’s egos are in San Diego, as they are in any of these communities, there is a genuine sense of people collaborating and working together, and we see it day in and day out.
Maria Monroy (26:12):
I do think that helps you guys.
Brett Schreiber (26:14):
100%, because I think people realize one of the most critically important skills that we have to have, is a clear and consistent understanding of our own limitations. For instance, at my firm, we know the things that we do well and we know the things that we don’t. It was like we talked about earlier, bringing in people that are good at what they do. I think that San Diego legal market is very much that. People are not afraid to share and to come together, because we are truly better when we are together. It’s the old, we will either hang together or we will hang alone, or whatever that Benjamin Franklin quote was, or whatever it was. But that notion of hanging together is something that we do a lot of, and we’re seeing it now. We’ve got this Justice HQ piece happening in San Diego.
Maria Monroy (27:12):
Congrats, when did you guys open?
Brett Schreiber (27:16):
The San Diego HQ opened about two months.
Maria Monroy (27:19):
I was very upset I wasn’t invited to the opening.
Brett Schreiber (27:22):
I’ll have to talk to somebody else, because I had nothing to do with that.
Maria Monroy (27:25):
It’s Bob’s fault.
Brett Schreiber (27:26):
It is absolutely Simon’s fault, let’s just blame Bob.
Maria Monroy (27:29):
I’m going to blame Bob, yeah.
Brett Schreiber (27:30):
And it is a special place. What’s cool for us, is we share the same floor. We went there and it was this open space, kind of an open canvas. There was a blank space on a 10th floor in a building in central San Diego, and we built out the HQ space, and my firm’s space, and we share the kitchen. It’s just good vibes. Every day we work together, I get cases from it, I put cases into it, but it’s that whole… the wheels of the bus going round and round, and everyone is really engaged and excited about it, and really doing a lot of good work that, in the end, makes us better advocates for the people that we help. That’s what it’s all about.
Maria Monroy (28:23):
Why do you think some people are so hesitant to network and be friends with their competitors? Why do they see it as, “If you win, I lose,” why can’t they see it as a win-win?
Brett Schreiber (28:37):
I think, like so many things, it’s just driven by fear and insecurity. If you aren’t leading with your fear and you aren’t leading with your insecurity, and your recognize your own limitations, you realize that you can do this job better. That’s the piece. It goes back to that ego hamster wheel, that people start to get so drunk on their own whiskey about what they are, and what they can do, and just get stuck on that, that somehow if they were to bring somebody else in or collaborate on a case, and split fees, and split the work, that somehow they are less than. But the problem with that attitude, or that mindset, is they’re making it about themselves, and you’ve got to always remember this isn’t about us, it’s about the people who we represent. If you put them first, if you put their interest first, then it becomes an easy decision to realize that bringing in others and working collaboratively with people who are really good at what they do, makes everyone better and serves the client, and the community, that much more.
Maria Monroy (29:55):
Absolutely. That’s an amazing way of looking at it, I’ve never heard it explained that way. Thanks, that’s awesome.
Brett Schreiber (30:01):
Maria Monroy (30:02):
Now, I know you’re very passionate about giving back to the community. Do you think that, that’s important just as a human, or as a lawyer? What do you think?
Brett Schreiber (30:12):
Both. Obviously trial lawyers could certainly use some more PR, they could use better PR, because they’ve not exactly done themselves well. But it’s not about that. There are a lot of people that give back to their community and then post it on their social media feed, call that what it is. That’s called marketing, that’s not charity. We’ve done that, I’m not going to say I haven’t, but I’m not trying to say, “Look at us being charitable.” I recognize that, that can be a marketing opportunity. But at the end of the day, I don’t need to be the richest guy in the cemetery. You get to a certain point of comfort where you realize that you have to pay that forward. One of the things that’s really been a guiding principle of what we’re doing is two fold. One, we have a very active civil rights practice, as well. It’s not something we lead with and candidly, it’s not something we generally make a ton of money doing-
Maria Monroy (31:12):
But isn’t it very lucrative?
Brett Schreiber (31:13):
It can be on some of the civil rights cases, but we take some of the civil rights cases because they are principled, and they are righteous. When the Black Lives Matter protests were starting a couple of years ago, we represented a lady who was shot with a rubber bullet. She had a bruise and it hurt, but she was a peaceful protestor. We sued the county, and it was interesting because I was talking with the county lawyers early on, and they’re like, “What do you guys want?”
We’re like, “For you to not shoot at protestors?”
Maria Monroy (31:45):
What do you think we want?
Brett Schreiber (31:48):
And they’re like, “No, what do you want in terms of the demand?”
I’m like, “We don’t really care.” She got over it in a couple of weeks. Most people are not going to file that lawsuit, but it wasn’t about that, it wasn’t about her injury, it was about that they were violating people’s rights by firing at peaceful protestors. Just follow the goddamn constitution, that’s what we want you to do.
Maria Monroy (32:08):
And what happened?
Brett Schreiber (32:09):
We’re still in litigation, actually, over the case, but one of the things that they are doing now, is changing some of their practices, and they’re actually instituting better rules in terms of when and how they use these “less lethal” weapons on people. It’s trying to enact some positive social change, and because we’re thankfully successful in the other areas that we do, we can do that. It’s not to say we’re doing it just out of principle, you cannot run a law firm entirely on principle, and we’ve had a couple of big hits. We’ve had a couple of eight figure verdicts in civil rights, as well. There are cases that come in and are economically viable, and there’s a return, but we do a lot of them because they’re just the right thing to do. That’s the other piece that we’re exploring right now in our expansion into New Mexico, is tackling environmental racism, and trying to hold polluters responsible for poisoning communities and destroying the drinking water.
Maria Monroy (33:15):
Wow. Doesn’t all this also feel good?
Brett Schreiber (33:22):
Absolutely. The environmental racism stuff that we’re working on now, and the expansion, we’ve got several new offices now in New Mexico, and we have several people who are managing our public entity practice, including a certain constitutional officer of New Mexico who shall remain nameless, until he gets out of office January 1st, who’s going to come over and manage our Albuquerque shop. That is a true example of where you can do well by doing good. New Mexico is an incredibly poor state and there are cities there that, the drinking water comes out of the tap brown. This is like Flint, Michigan, and nobody is aware of it, and it’s because the Monsantos, the Chevron Taxecos, and all the polluters in the world realized that New Mexico was a really great place to dump all of their shit in the ground.
Maria Monroy (34:14):
That’s so fucked up.
Brett Schreiber (34:16):
Completely. In fact, it was because the government gave them a wink and a nod with Los Alamos, which is where they kept all the nuclear material. Because the government created a giant nuclear wasteland super fund site, Monsanto and Chevron Taxeco was like, “Great place to go store our petroleum products in the ground, too. It ain’t like it’s a nuclear isotope.”
They did that for decades, and then not surprisingly, when the EPA some decades ago was like, “You know, keeping petroleum products in the ground next to ground water isn’t such a great idea,” they proceeded to remove it, and when they did, not surprisingly, they didn’t do a very good job. As a result, these communities have suffered. That’s what we’re doing with the public entity piece, is going to these communities and working with them, and helping them to remediate these conditions, and to hold the polluters responsible. It’s doing well by doing good, because we’re literally using the civil justice system to heal the earth.
And not for nothing. I mean, as the trial lawyer, let me try one of those cases. Whether it’s a car wreck, or a product case, or a medical malpractice case, we’re always trying to paint the conduct of this doctor, or this distracted driver, as being something sinister. It’s hard, because jurors, they feel bad for distracted grannies, and they feel bad for doctors, so we’re up against that. This shit is evil. This is Mr. Burns.
Maria Monroy (35:54):
You are ready, you lit up. You’re ready.
Brett Schreiber (35:59):
I hope that, sometime in the next couple of years, one of these groups is stupid enough to not pay a giant sum of money to fix these communities, and to allow us to try one of these cases, because it’s going to be on.
Maria Monroy (36:17):
This is what I mean when I say ego’s good.
Brett Schreiber (36:20):
Right, absolutely. You’ve got to be a little bit of a wild eyed pistol shooter who’s not afraid to die. You have to have that. You have to have a certain risk tolerance to you, to do this. To scale and run a 150 person law firm with the gigantic overhead that we have, where 99.9% of our business is on a contingent fee, is somewhat insane. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Maria Monroy (36:49):
Absolutely. We could do a whole episode just on discomfort and how you should lean into it, and how important it is. How are you getting cases?
Brett Schreiber (37:03):
From my practice, on the single event side, it’s primarily a lot of lawyer driver referrals. A lot of my trial cases are joint ventures and collaboration. In the mass tort and fire world, it’s a combination of marketing, it’s a combination of some lead generation, but we don’t do a ton of lead gen. Then, what ends up happening when you have this very large denominator of clients, that organically creates a pretty healthy stream of business, because there are 10,000 people you represent. If they, or someone they care about, if you treat them well, when something bad happens to anyone else they know? It’s, “Call my lawyer.”
Maria Monroy (37:51):
But that’s the key, if you treat them well. That doesn’t just mean, do you get a great settlement, or do you get a great verdict, or anything like that. Are you responsive? Is your staff friendly? These are basic things that… I listen to a lot of intake, or I have, and everybody thinks that they have great intake, but 99 times out of 100, they don’t.
Brett Schreiber (38:17):
Right. One of the things that we did in building this out, is I also have one of my lawyers who oversees our intake, he’s really our closer. I went to law school with him 20 years ago, and before that he was the number two BMW salesman in North America, and before that he was the number one Ferrari salesman in North America. The guy just gets it, he understands how to talk to people. And he’s just as good when he’s talking to some kid who crashed his motorcycle in Santee, as when he’s talking to a guy who has a 500 acre avocado grove that burned down in Shasta County.
You’ve got to be there, but you can’t just have someone who talks the talk, you then got to back it up by walking that walk. That’s one of the Covid blessings, to take this back to where we started, was building out systems so that we appreciate the life cycle of the client experience from soup to nuts. Being there, having those touches, having those drips, having those contacts, and doing all of those things, those processes that are so often overlooked, because it is a service industry first and foremost. If you ever lose sight of that, and unfortunately you see a lot of the volume mills that do. They look at it as people are like a widget, and if you treat them like widgets, it shows. If you don’t, it also shows.
Maria Monroy (39:50):
But you have a large firm, so how do you make sure that you keep that level of, like you said, small firm feel, customer service, as you grow in scale? How do you not lose that?
Brett Schreiber (40:05):
That’s the other thing that, if we could bottle it and sell it, we wouldn’t be sitting here.
Maria Monroy (40:10):
I hope we would be sitting here, talking about that.
Brett Schreiber (40:12):
Talking about that, maybe. If there was something that we could just distill down, and that it was like a paint by numbers, then obviously everybody could do it, but it’s not. One of the ways that we’ve managed to do that, is by never sitting on our laurels. I think one of the cool things about creating this firm with a number of different people, different practice groups, and different experiences, all of us, before we came together, we were all good. We didn’t need each other, but what has been cool, is we’ve recognized that just because we had all done something a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean it was always the right way to do it. This notion of constant improvement is something that we’re always talking about and always thinking about, because I think that’s where people get into trouble as they scale, is because they believe that’s just the system, and we’re going to keep that system in perpetuity.
Maria Monroy (41:17):
Yeah, set it and forget it.
Brett Schreiber (41:18):
You can’t set it and forget it.
Maria Monroy (41:20):
Brett Schreiber (41:20):
You’ve got to always be looking at it. It’s another reason why having people who are there, looking at those processes… In a regular business, if we were making widgets, your COO, or your people, they want to know, is the machine that produces the mold for the widget close enough to the assembly line that spits out the widget, that gets within certain number of feet or inches to where it gets packaged?
Maria Monroy (41:48):
Brett Schreiber (41:49):
That’s what people who do manufacturing are always thinking about, finding those efficiencies and finding those improvements. A law firm is not much different when you look at it through that lens.
Maria Monroy (41:58):
But that’s the thing, a lot of firms don’t look at it that way, and I feel like some lawyers just think that it’s beneath them. They went to law school, they’re a lawyer, they’re not a business owner. That’s not the way they see it, but it is a business.
Brett Schreiber (42:12):
100%, and I think you can get away with that when it’s just Joe Schmo and Associates, or Jane Schmo and Associations. If it’s just you and a couple people, you can fuck that up as many ways as you want, but that’s going to be on you. When you take on this level, when you take on this scale, when you do it the way we’re doing it, you have to be always seeing it for what it is, and knowing your limitations.
Maria Monroy (42:41):
Do you guys work remote?
Brett Schreiber (42:42):
We have a ton of remote workers. I’ve got 5000 feet, but I couldn’t fit 120 people in there. I would say, on any given day, 20 or 30 are actually there, and we have a couple of other offices. A few people show up in New Mexico, a few people show up in Sac, but other than that, I would say, even to this day, somewhere to the tune of 60% to 75% of our people are almost exclusively remote.
Maria Monroy (43:11):
Do you think that, that impacts their productivity negatively, or positively?
Brett Schreiber (43:16):
As long as you’ve made the tech investment, as long as you’ve made their ability, and you support them in that way, and we’ve done that. We’ve built out the tech back end so that it works well for people to be able to do it anywhere, and then giving them the technology in their homes, and the screens, and the laptops, and the phones. I wouldn’t say it’s made us less efficient, it’s made us more efficient. It was inefficient as Hell, what kind of savages were we that we would literally spend hours a day in a car? I’d rather them they spend hours a day at home getting shit done. Both for us, as well as for themselves. That is the thing that keeps people coming back for more. That’s so important. Clear and consistent lines of communication, you can make that work. I don’t care if somebody needs to go take their kid to school, or run to the grocery store.
Maria Monroy (44:13):
I agree, 1000%.
Brett Schreiber (44:14):
The nine to five is a very 20th century way of running a business.
Maria Monroy (44:21):
You mentioned technology, what are some of the things you’ve implemented? What tools do you guys use?
Brett Schreiber (44:26):
For internal messaging, we run a lot of stuff through Teams. File Vine for case management has been key, and then there’s a back end side of it that we can see productivity. Now, do I have the ability to go in and see what everybody is doing? Yeah. Do I do it? Not really. It’s there, you can see it, but so long as you build it out, and you have the right people in place, it becomes apparent if someone is totally fucking off.
Maria Monroy (44:57):
Absolutely, and then you can confirm using that, but there’s no need to-
Brett Schreiber (45:01):
No, I log into the back end, it’s called Periscope, like a periscope.
Maria Monroy (45:06):
Yeah, I’ve heard of it.
Brett Schreiber (45:07):
It allows you to do a lot of things. One of the things that we dug that system and one of the reasons we went with it, is because the back end analytics are insane. You can really drill down super deep into any kind of issues, both with respect to the types of cases, who’s working the cases, the productivity on the cases, dollars in, dollars out, you name it. You can run a lot of good analytics. I think, most importantly, is it just allows us to, once a month or every couple of months, check in. I feel like everything’s good over there, but… Trust, but verify.
Maria Monroy (45:43):
Brett Schreiber (45:45):
And then if you give the people access to all the technology that they need, so that they’re able to set up their own mini offices at home, then…
Maria Monroy (45:55):
What do you use for phones?
Brett Schreiber (45:57):
Right now, it’s Ring Central, which just pushes out through everybody’s cell phones, for the most part. We’re not 100% in love with it.
Maria Monroy (46:05):
Check out Zoom.
Brett Schreiber (46:05):
Maria Monroy (46:05):
It also has a phone system. It’s what we use.
Brett Schreiber (46:08):
Maria Monroy (46:08):
Aliyah Wadd told me about it, [inaudible 00:46:11], and we love it. It pushes it out to the phone, you can answer from the computer, you don’t have to have the whole virtual Zoom video cam, it can just be a phone. And it’s not expensive.
Brett Schreiber (46:26):
Okay, cool. I don’t think we’re going to live with Ring Central forever, but it’s gotten us this far, but always looking to check out new ways, and better opportunities.
Maria Monroy (46:39):
One last question, what’s the book that had the largest impact on your life? Either personal or business.
Brett Schreiber (46:48):
I can tell you one book that I’m reading right now, that is absolutely amazing. I won’t say it’s the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it has been really causing me to rethink what I do, is Breath.
Maria Monroy (47:05):
Oh my God, yes. The yellow book.
Brett Schreiber (47:06):
Maria Monroy (47:07):
Well, I don’t know if you’re reading on Kindle.
Brett Schreiber (47:10):
No, I need to hold a book, I’m not a Kindle guy.
Maria Monroy (47:12):
I haven’t read it, but it is on my to read, and I’ve heard so much about it.
Brett Schreiber (47:19):
It is about finding the lost art of breathing.
Maria Monroy (47:25):
I’m scared to read it, because I don’t breathe.
Brett Schreiber (47:28):
You do, but you don’t breathe well.
Maria Monroy (47:30):
I know, and I know I don’t.
Brett Schreiber (47:32):
None of us do, and I think why it’s a perfect way to end this, is because what I have taken from it, is by being more thoughtful about how I breathe, I’ve actually had a number of people… I’ve been reading it for a month, I’ve read another couple of books in the process, but-
Maria Monroy (47:50):
I’m sure it’s hard to read.
Brett Schreiber (47:52):
I find time, but again-
Maria Monroy (47:54):
No, I mean that book in particular.
Brett Schreiber (47:56):
Yeah, it is, it has some interesting anecdotes and things, but it’s not a book that you have to read continuously. I’ve read three other books while I’m reading it, because you can pick it up, but I have had several people in my circle say to me, “You seem a lot calmer.”
Maria Monroy (48:14):
Brett Schreiber (48:15):
I shit you not. I believe it’s because I am being more aware of my breath. I do it, whether it’s through meditation, and just through regular thoughtful breathing. Here was the thing that blew me away the most about it. In a perfect world, to find this perfect ohm sense of self and oneness, we should be breathing five to six times per minute, about five seconds in, five seconds out. Which is a long breath, to go in for five, out for five. What’s fascinating is, if you go back in time to every religious tradition, from om mani padmi hum, to praying the rosary, what you are doing is forcing yourself to breathe out for five, and to breathe in for five. That is the thing that connects it, and what I think that really tells us about prayer, is it doesn’t matter what you’re saying, it matters how you’re breathing. When you are being that intentional about your breath, you will find yourself open to being connected to the world around you.
Maria Monroy (49:31):
And more present.
Brett Schreiber (49:33):
Maria Monroy (49:34):
I lied, another question. What do you do to… I assume you have a stressful life, maybe you don’t see it that way, but I have to assume that it’s stressful. What do you do to de-stress?
Brett Schreiber (49:47):
My kids are the primary way.
Maria Monroy (49:49):
What? That’s my source of stress.
Brett Schreiber (49:51):
They can absolutely be a total source of stress, but hanging with them and doing stuff with them is definitely one of the ways. I don’t care if I’m in trial, as long as I’m in town, I try to get home by 6, and 6 to 8 are their hours, and I don’t care what else is going on. I check that shit at the door. They’re all still little, so they go to bed early, so I can get back to it after. That’s one, and then, exercise is key.
Maria Monroy (50:14):
What do you do?
Brett Schreiber (50:16):
I do a number of things, but one of them that was more of a Covid thing, is the old Peloton. I’ve got to tell you, Robin Arzon and some of those Peloton instructors, they’ve been my spirit animals for the last couple of years. A combination of some of the hit stuff and some of the cardio. I also live close to the beach in San Diego, so there’s so many great ways to be outside. Those are the things that I have to do, so that I can do everything else. If I don’t do those things, I’m less than. I’m less than as a person, I’m less than as a lawyer, I’m less than as a father, and I’m less than as a husband. If I’m not doing that stuff at least three, four, five days a week, I’m not my best self.
Maria Monroy (51:09):
Building a great firm starts with you. Care for yourself mentally and physically, and hire a team that you can trust to implement your vision. Establish processes that replicate incredible client experiences. As you grow, they will need to change. Evaluate them often and change them when needed. Thank you so much to Brett Schreiber at Singleton Schreiber for everything he shared today. If you found this story valuable, please share it with someone you want to see succeed. Subscribe so you never miss an episode and leave a five star review. It goes a long way to help others discover the show. Catch us next week on Tip The Scales with me, Maria Monroy, President of LawRank. Hear how the best in the business broke out of limiting beliefs, overcame adversity, and built a thriving purpose-driven business in the process.