Consistency. Small increases in performance and the ability to build good habits compound over time and will result in success. Becoming top in any field doesn’t happen overnight. It takes daily action to become a little better each day and eventually those actions all add up. It’s easy to look at our firm and the results we’ve gotten and think we were an overnight success. But people don’t realize that it took six or seven years before our firm ever got a million-dollar settlement and over ten years before we ever got an eight-figure verdict. But ever since then it’s become easier and easier to get those results. You don’t get those types of results for your clients by not putting in the work daily and over a long period of time.
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 Matt Granda.
Matt Granda is the managing partner of Claggett & Sykes Law Firm. Claggett & Sykes is a firm of trial lawyers with offices in Las Vegas and Reno and handles large loss cases across the country. The Firm now has over 50 employees with 21 attorneys and was recently named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing businesses in the United States.
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”?
I’m pretty sure I never thought about being a lawyer growing up. I didn’t have any lawyers in my family, and I definitely didn’t want to sit in an office all day. When I made the decision to go to law school I was at a point in my life where I wanted to do something different from what I was doing, and law school sounded interesting.
I took a somewhat non-traditional path to get where I am. Growing up I was always fascinated by the military (I was a kid of the 80’s so GI Joe was my life). I was also really into sports but pretty early in high school I realized my dream of playing in the NBA probably wasn’t going to happen, so I started thinking more about the military. I didn’t quite have the SAT scores or extracurriculars to get into one of the military academies, so I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps.
I served four years in the Marine Corps infantry, went to some far-off lands, and made some great friends. After I finished my four years, I followed some of those friends to Las Vegas. My dad lived out there while I was in the Marines, and we would visit on weekends a lot so it seemed like a natural place to land.
After moving to Vegas, I started working at a casino as a barback and enrolled in the local community college. Still no idea what I wanted to do other than “business.” I’d work graveyards then go right to school and try to stay awake. I did that for a few years and kept working in the service industry, waiting tables or bartending at local restaurants.
Fast forward to 2008, I had recently bought a new house, was still bartending, and was set to finish undergrad the next year. I knew I didn’t want to work in the service industry the rest of my life and there was this little economic recession going on that was really hurting service-type jobs.
I had a childhood friend back in New Jersey who was applying to law school. We’d talk about that, and it sounded interesting. I thought to myself, lawyers must always have jobs and the money is probably good, maybe I’ll be a lawyer. I started looking into law school a little more and learned that UNLV had a law school. That new house I was in made it, and I really didn’t want to leave Vegas, so I figured I’d apply to the law school at UNLV. I figured if I got in, great, if not, I’d figure something else out.
Thankfully, I got in and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I landed a law clerk job during my second year with a small personal injury firm, Claggett & Sykes Law Firm (then it was just Claggett & Associates) and I’ve never left. Becoming a lawyer is not something younger me ever thought of but it really has become a career that I love and has led to what I would consider a dream job.
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
Our firm handles plaintiff personal injury cases across the country. We are a trial law firm, so most of our business comes from referrals on cases that need to be worked up for trial and ultimately tried. We are a lower volume firm that focuses on catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. In addition to trying cases, we also have an appellate team that focuses on plaintiff personal injury appellate issues for our firm and other personal injury firms across the State.
Finally, we’ve been building the consulting side of our practice. So, instead of co-counseling and appearing in a case, we will work with other firms on the strategy of their cases. This includes workdays where we conduct focus groups and help develop things like opening statements and the order of proof for trial. The consulting practice and appellate practice have really taken off over the past year and have allowed us to be involved in more cases where we may not necessarily have the time otherwise to take on a co-counsel role.
As for me, specifically, I have a unique role at the firm and a different career path than many. I am the managing partner of the firm. I know that title has different meanings at other firms but for us it means I don’t do much legal work anymore and, instead, deal more with the operations-side of things. That encompasses HR, marketing, training, and developing systems and processes so we have a more uniform approach to handling cases. I’ve been in this role since 2017 but it wasn’t until 2019 that I fully transitioned away from working on cases to doing what I do now. The firm has grown so much since then and we now have over 50 employees, including 21 attorneys, and offices in Las Vegas and Reno.
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 think my experience being in the Marine Corps definitely helped get me where I am. There are a lot of things you gain from serving but some that stick out to me are that you learn how to push yourself through unpleasant experiences, how to manage the stress that comes with those situations, how to meet high standards, and how to work with others.
When I was taking the bar exam, I had a friend ask how I was staying so calm, and my response was that I had the good fortune of having been in a lot worse situations. They may not have been fun at the time (though you do learn how to have fun even when you’re miserable) but figuring out how to mentally push through those situations without getting too high or too low is such an important lesson that I still use today. Being a lawyer is certainly a stressful job so learning how to manage the stress is vital.
Meeting high standards and working with others are things that I also use today. Now I’m in a position to help set the standards for our firm and it’s important to have high standards and hold people accountable to those standards if you want to succeed. As soon as you stop enforcing standards or letting people fall below standards, your standards fall to that level, and you’ve set new, lower standards. We talk about this with our team leads and the need to trust but verify. We don’t like to micromanage, but you do need to know what’s going on with your people to ensure issues don’t go undiscovered for too long in order to maintain standards.
To do all of that you need to know how to work with others. Being a leader is all about setting expectations and putting people in a position that allows them to succeed. Nobody is great at everything and it’s important to discover people’s strengths and put them in a position to use those strengths. For example, some lawyers are really good writers, but may not be comfortable arguing a motion to a judge or taking a deposition. I’m all for getting people out of their comfort zones and pushing them to see what they’re capable of, but also allowing them to do what they enjoy and do what they’re good at. When I first started at the firm, I wrote the majority of briefs for the firm, Will Sykes did almost all the depositions, and Sean Claggett was bringing in business and doing trials. Honestly, I got tasked with writing because I was the newest attorney, but I also came to really enjoy it. It ended up that we were each in a position that played to our strengths, and it created a nice flow when we were handling cases.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
I have mixed feelings calling it luck. I think you have to take action and put yourself in a position to create opportunities and I think good things happen when you do that. Some might look at just the result and call it being lucky, but I think there’s a difference between random blind luck and good things happening because you’ve taken steps to increase the odds of things happening in your favor.
In my first year of law school, I attended a talk during lunch where a local attorney came in and talked about the importance of networking. She handled workers’ compensation claims at a local personal injury firm and this was around the time I was becoming interested in the personal injury field.
Later that day, I sent her an email thanking her for the lunch. I wrote that I did not have any lawyers in my family and really had no idea what a lawyer did all day and asked if I could come shadow her for a day over the winter break. I could also tell from her accent that she was from Boston and the Yankees had just won the World Series, so I might have mentioned that to her in my email (I may have been lucky that she had a good sense of humor and appreciated my humor, but you have to know your audience).
She invited me in for a day and I got to see what she did on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the day, she asked if I had any plans for the summer. She said she couldn’t pay me but offered me an internship. Which as a first-year law student, again during that tiny economic recession in the mid-2000s, sounded great. I jumped at the chance and accepted.
I worked for her for the entire summer. At the end of summer, I interviewed with a bunch of bigger firms in town for OCI. I didn’t get any of those jobs, but one day in class I saw an email on the law school listserv that a small personal injury firm was looking for a law clerk. The only catch was the candidate had to speak Spanish. I don’t speak a lick of Spanish but knew this is what I wanted to do so I took a chance and emailed them with my resume.
I was given an interview and it came down to another applicant, who spoke Spanish, and me. I called up the attorney I interned with over the summer and asked if she knew anything about this Sean Claggett guy. Turns out she went to law school with him. She told me she’d call him and put in a good word. Sean later told me that her phone call sealed the deal for me and here I am 11 years later still at Claggett & Sykes.
I do consider myself lucky to have met the right people at the right time, but it certainly wasn’t blind luck or something that just happened randomly to me. I realize it happened because I took chances and put myself in a position to allow things to tilt in my favor. If I had never sent that email during my first year, or taken an unpaid internship, or emailed about a job where I was missing a pretty important requirement, I would not be where I am today. Luck by itself would have never gotten me this job.
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?
Where I went to school played a role in my success because of the relationships I was able to build. Vegas is a small legal community, and it was those relationships that helped land me the job in law school at the firm where I still work 11 years later. I believe building relationships in law school is probably more important than the actual school you go to.
I can’t speak for big law or the really large metropolitan areas like New York or Chicago, where the school you go to probably does matter quite a bit. But I imagine the relationships you build at those schools are still a key factor in landing a job at large firms. Those firms may only recruit at top tier schools but who you know is still going to help land a job.
I also strengthened my writing skills at law school. The William S. Boyd School of Law had a phenomenal writing program when I attended (it’s now number one in the country) and I credit a lot of the writing techniques I learned early on to Boyd and the writing professors. That’s something I place a lot of emphasis on now when hiring law clerks and we can be confident when hiring from Boyd that we’re getting quality writers.
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 say keep doing what you’re doing and don’t sweat the small stuff. I can’t think of anything I’d do differently as everything I’ve done has gotten me to where I am, and I like where I am.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
I have a few different motivations. A big one is helping our clients. That’s the most important thing we do and what we do can and does change lives. We handle tragic cases but getting justice or closure for our clients makes it worth it and keeps you going.
Not doing much legal work anymore though, I have other things that also motivate me. My motivation in that role is to build the best firm possible and help our people grow professionally and personally. I love the team-building aspect of what I do and making sure we have the right people in the right role. As we’ve grown that becomes more challenging because you’re managing more personalities. That’s not always easy, and a job that’s not for everyone, but I enjoy trying to resolve those issues as they come up because I think it makes the teams within our firm closer and makes the firm as a whole better.
And lastly, I am motivated by the role our firm has taken in promoting the sharing of information and knowledge amongst the plaintiff bar. We’ve been in the position of needing help on cases and feeling like the lawyers we brought in to help had no interest in teaching us how to be better lawyers. That was a catalyst for us to make sure that when lawyers ask us for help on cases that we also try to teach them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And on a broader scale, we’ve helped create a listserv group in Nevada that now has over 200 members. I believe we have something unique with this group and the willingness of lawyers in the group to help and support each other. I truly believe it’s created a more proficient plaintiff bar in Nevada and has led to better results for injured persons in our state.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have a few projects I’m focusing on that really excite me. One is growing our presence in Reno with our new location up there. We’ve just announced a monthly CLE series we plan to hold in Reno, and we believe this will be a great way to try to replicate what we’ve been able to do in Las Vegas in terms of sharing ideas amongst the plaintiff bar. While not a very populous state, Nevada is pretty large geographically, so Vegas lawyers and Reno lawyers don’t get to interact all that much. We hope to change that.
I’m also working on developing a more comprehensive training program for our lawyers and paralegals. We spend so much time presenting at seminars and webinars that we sometimes forget to work with our own people. But in order for our firm to continue to grow and thrive for a long time, we want to make sure all of our lawyers are well equipped.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
A lot of what I’ve done has been trial by fire. During Covid, we took the approach that we weren’t going to panic, and we were going to look for opportunities to come out even stronger than when we went in. We were able to take advantage of our lawyers presenting on national webinars on a regular basis. The increase in calls for us to work on cases with other lawyers increased so much that it led to us doubling in size from 2020 to 2021, going from about 25 employees to over 50 and going from 10 attorneys to 21. We also opened a second office in Reno, Nevada during that time. We learned really fast how to do interviews over Zoom, and we did a lot of them, and had to learn how to incorporate large groups of people into our firm culture while working remotely. In the past we had always hired a person here or there, so it was relatively easy to assimilate them. It’s a different challenge when doing that with multiple people, some of whom are in different cities.
In the future, I want to build on what we learned during Covid and continue to improve how we train our people and how we maintain a strong culture. I see myself continuing to learn and grow in my current role and becoming a better teacher. I’m still relatively new to the operations side of running a law firm and I still feel I have a lot to learn. That’s my main focus for the next few years. At the same time, I want to become a better teacher for others in our firm. We have built a terrific team, but it takes a lot of hard work to maintain that and keep getting better. I look at my role moving into the future as ensuring that happens by continuous training of our people.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
I don’t know if I have a specific war story or funny story, but we’ve had a lot of moments I can be proud of. One of my favorite ones is a series of product defect cases we had where the defendant company ultimately changed the design of its product to make it safer. We knew of cases involving brain injury and death that should be prevented in the future due to these changes and that’s a success I’ll never forget.
Besides that, I would say that I’m also really proud of how our team handled the shutdown and maintained our work product and standards. We talk a lot about having a growth mindset and being willing to adapt to changes but it was amazing to watch it on such a grand scale and literally overnight.
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?
I do a bit of hybrid. I work mostly in the office but try to do one day a week working remotely at home. Our entire firm worked remotely for just over a year. We now prefer the majority of people in the office because it’s hard to foster a strong culture when everyone is working remotely. We collaborate a lot amongst our attorneys, and we’ve found that it’s easier to do that in person. I think you lose the ability to innovate and collaborate as much when everyone is working remotely. It’s just not the same as getting people in a room and talking things through.
Going into the shutdown, most of our team had been with us for a few years and had strong relationships with us and each other. We asked a lot from our team over that year, and I think we were able to do that because they had bought into our culture. We didn’t see much of a decrease in productivity, beyond the limitations we faced with courts being shut down and cases being continued. I attribute a lot of that to us having built a healthy culture while working in person for years before the shutdown.
But we also hired over 20 people during the shutdown and none of them were able to experience the camaraderie that our firm has when working together in the office. We felt working in the office was the best way to assimilate new people into the firm and our culture.
We prefer that everyone works the majority of time in the office, but we also allow everyone to work one day a week remote. So far, that’s been popular, and I imagine we’ll keep doing that other than times where we need people in the office for things like trial prep.
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?
I think the legal world has started to catch up to the rest of the world in terms of technology. Overnight we were forced to make sure we had a law firm that could operate out of the office. We already had a cloud-based case management system so we could use that from anywhere. But our server was still in house and to access it we needed to log in to a VPN and use remote access. It was really clunky and slow and crashed a lot. We had talked about moving to a cloud-based server for a while but never quite had the motivation to make the change. Covid was that motivation and we moved pretty quickly to make that change.
We’ve also seen technology evolve to where court hearings and depositions were all done via video calls. I think those were huge changes that would not have happened but for Covid. Frankly, I hope those stick around. I think the majority of depositions can be done via video, which cuts down on travel for our attorneys and travel costs, which saves our clients money. And we’ve been able to do all sorts of court hearings via video. I’m sure there are hearings where we’d rather be in front of the judge, but for things like status checks, I really hope those remain on video. It saves so much time and is just as effective.
Finally, in our world of personal injury, I think Covid led to the one of the greatest transfers of knowledge and information amongst trial lawyers we’ve ever seen. With everything shut down there were new webinars and podcasts almost daily with some of the top trial lawyers across the country, and they were free. Where you used to have pay hundreds or thousands of dollars, you could now learn strategies and techniques from the best of the best almost every day. It was amazing to watch and for our firm to be a part of. I don’t think that happens other than Covid.
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?
Absolutely. See my story above about how I got my job. I think networking is just as important as ever in terms of getting referrals too. If you’re a new lawyer starting out, that’s probably where most or all of your cases are going to come from at first. You need to rely on the relationships you’ve built, and not just those you’ve built as a lawyer. It can be as simple as letting friends and family know what type of law you do and what types of cases you handle. Don’t assume that they know what you do just because you’re a lawyer. Specifically tell them what types of cases you handle. Studies have shown that when hiring a lawyer, most people still rely mainly on recommendations from family and friends. The bigger your network is the better chance you have of getting personal recommendations.
And that’s something we still do at our firm. We’ve never done traditional advertising and don’t spend a lot on digital media compared to others. We’ve relied primarily on the relationships we’ve built. As we’ve grown and as our firm has had success and gained a larger presence nationwide, our network has grown. We get multiple calls daily from other lawyers looking to refer us cases because they either know us, know someone who knows us, or have seen one of us on a webinar.
We live in a digital world and that’s not changing anytime soon. Getting out and building relationships with people and connecting on a personal level is one way to set yourself apart from everyone who relies solely on digital mediums. End of the day, people are going to want to work with those they know and trust. And meeting with people face to face is an easy way to build that trust.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
This is one of those things that is simple but not necessarily easy, and definitely an area I’d like to improve upon at our firm. There are a handful of lawyers who have a tremendous following on social media platforms like Instagram. If you watch what they do there’s a consistent trend amongst them. They produce informational, quality content, primarily with video, and do it consistently across multiple platforms. And they interact with people who interact with them. Sounds simple, but these lawyers are generally posting multiple videos per day in addition to responding to comments and posting comments on other sites.
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.
As I mentioned before, I have a unique role in our firm. I don’t do too much legal work anymore and I was never the top trial guy. But I think you can use a lot of the same lessons to become top in any field and I think these will apply whether you want to be a trial lawyer or run the business side of things.
- Consistency. Small increases in performance and the ability to build good habits compound over time and will result in success. Becoming top in any field doesn’t happen overnight. It takes daily action to become a little better each day and eventually those actions all add up. It’s easy to look at our firm and the results we’ve gotten and think we were an overnight success. But people don’t realize that it took six or seven years before our firm ever got a million-dollar settlement and over ten years before we ever got an eight-figure verdict. But ever since then it’s become easier and easier to get those results. You don’t get those types of results for your clients by not putting in the work daily and over a long period of time.
- Find a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Finding a mentor or mentors is so important to increasing the speed in which you can learn. While I value learning from mistakes, someone probably made those mistakes before you and can help you avoid making the mistake in the first place. I encourage new lawyers or lawyers who are just out on their own to find more experienced lawyers or firms to partner with on cases. It can help with case costs that you may not be able to afford and takes some of the pressure off that might otherwise force you to settle cases for less than what your clients deserve. And if you find a good partner you may end up earning a larger fee even though you have to split fees with that lawyer because of the value they can add to the case.
- Always be learning. I was lucky to start at a firm where the partners understood the importance of learning from others to improve our craft. We all constantly read as much as we could and went to different trial colleges and seminars to learn from others. And it’s something that we still do today and make our younger lawyers do. We’ve seen a lot of lawyers who get to a certain level of success or have been practicing for a while and feel like they don’t have anything left to learn. Those are the ones who are going to get left behind by newer generations and not understand things like how to put on trials with changing juror attitudes. You have to constantly evolve with the world around you and learn how to adapt to new situations.
- Find your balance. I think it’s so important to find a partner or an employee who is somewhat opposite of you. If you’re a big picture person and quick to act, find someone who likes the details and can put your big ideas into action. The partners at our firm, Sean, Will, and I, have a good mix of personalities and really balance each other out. Sean is a big picture guy and he’s moving on to the next big idea before we’ve put the last one into place. And I mean that in a good way. That’s his strength and what has allowed the firm to grow pretty quickly. But those ideas don’t do you any good if you don’t have someone with the ability to come up with the plan and framework to put them into place. So figure out what traits you have and find someone who balances you out.
- Give more than you take. What I mean by this is freely share what you know to help make others better. Don’t be the one who just constantly asks and takes from others without sharing in return. Sharing has a few benefits. One, it shows you’re a good person and you never know when you may need a favor from someone else. Two, it makes the entire profession better which, ultimately makes things better for you. If we’ve drafted a motion that has had success and someone outside the firm has the same issue they need to brief, I don’t want to risk that person making bad law for us or our peers. We have no problem sharing any motions or research we’ve done for that reason. Finally, sharing information is a great way to build trust in your firm and sets you up as an authority in your field. The more you share, the more likely it is that other lawyers may end up calling you when they need help on their cases, which will end up resulting in more business for you. It can really turn into a win-win for everyone and doesn’t cost you anything but a little time and generosity.
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. 🙂
This is a tough one. I think I’d go with Pete DeBoer, coach of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights and Yankees are my favorite sports teams and I think meeting with a professional sports coach would be pretty interesting. I’m always curious what it’s like coaching professional athletes and the different methods coaches use. Plus, he had such a unique experience in moving from the Knights’ archrival to the Knights after a pretty heated playoff series the season before.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!