Louis Russo Of Russo Law: “Take the Time to Build a Team ”

Take the Time to Build a Team — It’s very easy to simply do something yourself because you don’t want to spend the time to train someone and no one can do it as well as you. But that is a worthwhile investment if it allows you to walk away from the office so you can continue […]

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Take the Time to Build a Team — It’s very easy to simply do something yourself because you don’t want to spend the time to train someone and no one can do it as well as you. But that is a worthwhile investment if it allows you to walk away from the office so you can continue to market and build your external brand at your business law firm. Invest time in making sure the people you work with (admins, paralegals, etc.) know exactly what you expect and ride the waves as they invariably fall short. Once you can rely on them, you will be liberated to grow your business lawyer practice.

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Louis A. Russo. After working for many years at large international law firms, Lou founded Russo Law LLC which helps small and medium sized businesses close business transactions and resolve business disputes through a combination of pre-suit negotiations, arbitration, litigation and mediation. Lou is proud to offer business-minded counseling at reasonable rates and often at flat fees.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

It is truly my pleasure. I initially wanted to become “Dr. Russo” when I was younger. Soon after going pre-med in college, I realized I didn’t have the stomach for medicine. So, I became a political science major and eventually set my sights on the law. After college, I worked as a paralegal in a firm that handled defective drug cases. I was fascinated by the fast-paced trial work and decided to take the law school plunge.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

I am a New York New Jersey business attorney. I help small and medium sized business review, negotiate and close contracts. I also work closely with my clients to resolve business disputes (e.g., breach of contract matters, breach of fiduciary duty, etc.) between vendors, joint venture parties, business partners and shareholders. I also have a passion for arbitration which I find to be a more efficient means of resolving disputes. For that reason, I am an adjunct professor of arbitration and serve as an arbitrator for FINRA and the American Arbitration Association.

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?

  1. Persistence — “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence….” That Calvin Coolidge quote is a mantra for me. Without persistence, you cannot survive the high-stress and high-pressure role of being a junior lawyer. Now later in my career, persistence is what allows me to win RFPs and also to get deals contracts signed and business disputes resolved.
  2. Open-minded — Many lawyers think they have all of the answers. I do not. To help clients achieve their goals, a business attorney needs to LISTEN and let them teach you about their businesses. If you do that, you can then think creatively to get their desired result.
  3. Level-headed — The law is full of fights so it is easy to get wrapped up in them and lose your cool. But aside from losing credibility, losing control prevents you from putting your client first. It’s important to remain calm and act civilly, and unfortunately, those qualities will allow you to stand out in this profession more often than not.

Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?

I worked at several large preeminent law firms before starting my own firm Russo Law LLC. I gained tremendous experience working on “bet-the company” cases and with the best and the brightest legal minds. But I realized that the large firm model was incredibly inefficient. I often thought I could do things quicker and more economically for clients by leveraging technology to offer reasonable rates. So when I left big firm life to start my own business law firm Russo Law LLC, I look back on it now and feel lucky. Lucky that I took that first step and now that I control of my practice and my life.

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 personally don’t believe that graduating from a top-tier law school is the reason I’ve been successful in my career. While I didn’t graduate from an Ivy League school, I did graduate at the top of my class. I think firms were impressed with the work ethic, diligence, and persistence required to do so. Consequently, I had numerous offers to work at AmLaw100 firms coming out of law school. For me, working at those firms, rather than my degree, has been the best marketing tool in offering my business lawyer services.

Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?

I would tell 20 year-old Lou to be a business major in college and to take more business law courses when he gets to law school. I’d also recommend that he take some accounting courses as reading a financial statements and tax returns is a good skill for business attorneys. Since I haven’t been able to set the DeLorean to 88 mph like Marty did in Back to the Future, I’ve been fortunate to learn about business through all of the corporate transactions and commercial litigation I’ve worked on in my career as a business lawyer.

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

Even though I have worked on numerous corporate matters in my career, nothing prepared me for starting my own business. Any entrepreneur will agree. However, the prospect of creating my own practice that helps other business owners avoid liability and wasteful litigation drives me every day. For as tedious as it can sometimes be, it is a very rewarding experience when you help a client resolve an issue that they have not been able to fix on their own. Some examples include helping disputing business partners resolve their differences, thinking creatively to hammer out the sticking points to sell or purchase a business, and recouping money or vital services stemming from a breach of contract.

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

What I love about my practice is that I represent clients in all industries and sectors. So on any given day I might start off on trying to close the sale of a pest control limited liability company then turn to negotiating an international distribution agreement for a beauty care company and then finish by drafting a demand letter aimed at resolving a dispute between shareholders (a.k.a. “business divorce”) of an e-commerce company. No day is exactly the same and I appreciate the variety.

Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?

I am hoping to grow my firm in the next few years. I am also hoping to gain more appointments as an arbitrator as I truly enjoy seeing talented lawyers advocate for their clients.

Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?

I was part of a team that helped resolve a dispute on behalf of an internationally acclaimed rock band that was accused of misappropriating some music in a very popular song. It was a cool experience as the lead guitarist explained the differences in his own words as he played for us.

As far as funny goes, all I can say is the holiday parties I’ve attended over the years are the place where normally buttoned-up lawyers let loose. I’m sworn to secrecy.

Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?

The best part about being a business lawyer is that I can practice anywhere with internet access. Whether collaborating on a contract, or reviewing documents as part of a breach of contract dispute in New York and New Jersey, everything can and should be done through telephone or video conference. Technology is what allows me to offer economical rates to my clients, more so than the larger firms that are saddled with expensive and (in my opinion) unnecessary overhead that comes with the marble and mahogany. Candidly, one of the major reasons I left BigLaw was because many of the senior lawyers (who came up through the ranks reliant on hard copy paper) were resistant to technology for no good reason. As someone who is obsessed with efficiency, the refusal to get with the times drove me bonkers and led me to start my own practice.

How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?

Some of the senior lawyers I mentioned above have been forced to accept technology because of COVID. However those large firms still have long-term leases and I think they will continue to require people to come into the office for the near term. Either way, clients are demanding more reasonable reasons and alternative fee arrangements, two things I am pleased to offer them at my small yet nimble business law firm, Russo Law LLC.

We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?

The world doesn’t turn without networking. Prior to COVID, I’d typically meet people for coffee, lunch or a drink, but that had to change. So I find myself video conferencing with clients and staying in constant contact with my former BigLaw colleagues who are often me sending me referrals for matters that cannot sustain their hourly rates. That’s often in the form of a text sharing pictures of kids, dogs, etc. Also I find myself setting up more outdoor experiences to get together albeit in a round of golf (I am a terrible golfer), skeet shooting, or going to a sporting event.

Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?

I admittedly did not appreciate the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) before founding business law firm Russo Law LLC. However, I now understand how building your web presence through keywords is critical to growing and promoting your brand. Social media is a critical component of SEO as it allows you to tell the internet, and by extension, your potential clients, who you are and what you can offer them. More often that not I like to use social media as an outlet to show some of my personality and sense of humor, often posting lawyer jokes. I also use social media to promote articles that I’ve written on the “Business Law Corner” legal blog which discusses a variety of business law topics.

Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Listen. Listen. Listen. — If you assume you know what a client is looking to achieve, you might waste your time and the client’s money. It is critical to hear what client’s concerns and objectives before you can effectively devise the proper strategy.
  2. Be Practical and Direct. If clients were interested in theories of contract negotiation, they would enroll in law school. Instead, they hire business lawyers to achieve their desired result quickly while spending the least amount of money. That’s true on Main Street and Wall Street. So as a business lawyer always ask yourself “How do I achieve my client’s desired goal?” To answer that, think creatively and don’t be afraid to give your honest assessment. For as much as clients hate to hear it, sometimes settling or making the concession in a contract negotiation is the best result for them. Remember, the best outcome of any dispute (albeit in negotiating a contract or trying to resolve a breach of contract matter) is where both parties leave something on the table.
  3. Act like an Adult — During contract negotiations and in litigation, it is very easy to revert back to the tactics you deployed while fighting with your siblings as a toddler. Rise above it and be the grown up in the room. Credibility is everything. I lose respect for high-powered attorneys who stomp, pout, punch walls and slam a phone on a desk — all things I’ve regrettably witnessed. Always ask yourself if your mother would approve of your behavior. Remember the client, judge, arbitrator or jury are always watching.
  4. Start networking early in your career and never stop — It’s easy as a junior lawyer to lock yourself away in an office to make sure you bill enough hours. But make time to get in front of the right people because it is impossible to find your mentor if no one knows who you are. Also, networking internally at a firm leads to opportunities to network outside the firm which will develop your external brand. Lastly, assume that every colleague will go in-house so keep in touch with them.
  5. Take the Time to Build a Team — It’s very easy to simply do something yourself because you don’t want to spend the time to train someone and no one can do it as well as you. But that is a worthwhile investment if it allows you to walk away from the office so you can continue to market and build your external brand at your business law firm. Invest time in making sure the people you work with (admins, paralegals, etc.) know exactly what you expect and ride the waves as they invariably fall short. Once you can rely on them, you will be liberated to grow your business lawyer practice.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’d love to meet with any entrepreneur not only to explain the significant value Russo Law LLC can offer them, but also to share in their journey. Aside from the relationships I have nurtured with my family, friends, and colleagues, I am most proud of starting my own business and I love to talk with other entrepreneurs whenever I can.

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

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