Nina B Ries: “Slowing down is good”

Changes are coming to residential and commercial real estate. I love that people are looking at where they live and where they work differently. I love that everyone is examining how they shop, where they get their physical activity, and generally looking more closely at their habits. I love that companies are looking more critically at […]

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Changes are coming to residential and commercial real estate.

I love that people are looking at where they live and where they work differently. I love that everyone is examining how they shop, where they get their physical activity, and generally looking more closely at their habits. I love that companies are looking more critically at their commercial real estate needs and learning how to pivot, regardless of their business models. This is a big country, and there’s no reason we all need to be clustered in the same areas. Technology, flexibility, and a new mindset will help bring about changes that should impact affordability and viability — and that’s good news for all of us. We’re living in exciting times!

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina B. Ries, principal of Ries Law Group in Los Angeles, has extensive experience in business and real estate, in both litigation and on the transactional side, for clients ranging from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, technology, real estate, healthcare, and more. She has litigated a variety of complex matters and cases involving breaches of contracts, real estate disputes, business torts, 17200 claims, partnership disputes, employment matters, and class action defense. Nina credits her ability to anticipate the opposing party’s arguments, strategy, and actions to her experience both prosecuting and defending cases.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

During law school, I was certain I wanted to practice intellectual property law — it was so exciting, so new, and so fluid! Being part of a developing and ever-changing area of law meant that I would never be bored. But once I started practicing, I was drawn to cases involving business and real estate. This fit perfectly with my entrepreneurial spirit and my lifelong passion for real estate, finance, and all things involving a balance sheet or blueprint. And I am pleased to report that it, too, is a surprisingly dynamic area of law.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

I’m fortunate to love what I do, so I think every case is an interesting one, but I’ll share this personal experience because — whether someone is just starting out or struggling right now because of the pandemic — it might offer some hope.

When I started my firm, I did so with zero clients. Fear is a powerful motivator for me, because going from having a nice salary to suddenly bringing in nothing with a mortgage and a baby (my daughter had just turned 2 when I started my firm) was downright terrifying. We could survive on just my husband’s salary, but we really needed mine to do everything we wanted to do. Everyone told me it would take a year or more to make the same as I’d been making, and to prepare myself for this reality. I networked, reached out to colleagues and opposing counsel, I attended every networking event I was invited to. I spoke at meetings and on panels, I wrote articles, and did everything I could to get my name out there. In doing so, I built a book of business pretty quickly, and within four months was earning more than I had at my firm. And that was great! Until a bunch of my cases all settled at the same time in the midst of an economic downturn and I had pangs of anxiety that I would never recover. Spoiler alert: I did. The business was back within a few weeks. I should have just enjoyed a little break when I had it, because before long I was busier than ever.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that economic cycles are exactly that — they’re cyclical. There will be ebbs and flows. There will be good times and lean times. There will be times when you are so busy you don’t even know where to start and times when you’re left twiddling your thumbs. Enjoy the downtime when you can get it, and never stop networking. Field of Dreams had it partially right — it’s not just “if you build it, they will come.” It’s “If you build it, deliver value to clients, and you service their needs, they will come.” So, do that. Consistently. And have faith.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My role is as a problem-solver. People come to me because they are on the verge of a dispute (or in the midst of one), and they need my help solving that problem. Alternatively, they come to me because they want to avoid disputes and want someone pragmatic to help them through the process with a litigator’s perspective on risk management. I have been doing this for nearly 20 years. I grew up with entrepreneur parents and around real estate, and both of those run in my veins. It’s been part of my upbringing, it’s a personal passion, and it’s my profession. So when I come up with solutions, I know they need to work on multiple levels, and these are levels I understand and relate to in my core.

But it’s not just that. I pride myself on being strategic in the work we do and creative in our approach. I simply look at things differently — with both the law and a business person in mind. My goal is to get to yes, and the nice thing about the law is that the answer is rarely no; it’s just a matter of how you structure a deal. Because this is my mindset, I approach problems not based upon differences, but on commonalities. I’m proud to have come up with solutions and arrive at agreements where others have failed. It’s particularly satisfying when a client, a judge, or a mediator commends us on brokering a deal when they didn’t think one could be made. Those are my favorite days.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

A very wise person once told me that you don’t regret the things you did — you regret the things you said no to. As a college student, a law student, and later, as a young attorney, I took this to heart. I made it a point to remain open to opportunities, to take advantage of unique experiences whenever I could, and in the office, never turned away a case no matter how busy I was, or an opportunity to work with a new partner. I worked hard for sure, but this served me exceedingly well. I gained an impressive amount of experience quickly, and I earned the reputation of being a hard worker with a positive attitude. Because of this, I was able to largely forge my own path.

I had the good fortune to have incredible mentors who were brilliant legal minds, generous with their time, mindful about talking me through their analyses so I could learn to think like they did, made it a point to include me on case strategy discussions early in my career, and had the utmost confidence in me. I credit my success to them because of the investments they made in my professional success, the early experience they gave me, and the independence they afforded me to run my cases. And while they did let me run my cases fairly independently, they were always there, always watching, always serving as my safety net, my sounding board, and my voice of reason. Looking back today, I know that all of those contributed to me becoming the lawyer I am today. I’ve been very, very lucky.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

The pressure I put on myself to get everything done, as if nothing has changed. But to be fair, a lot of this is outside pressure, too. Clients still have needs, and I want to keep up on my own reading — whether it’s about the state of the economy, short- and long-term projections that can impact my clients’ positions, or the latest industry and legal news. The children still need to be educated, challenged, and entertained. You still need to manage your investments — and suddenly, you’re doing so in a rather unprecedented, rapidly changing environment. And you still have the same (seemingly never-ending) list of things to do to keep the household running.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, so I made a list of everything I wanted to do. I then went through and listed those items in order of its importance to me. And I tackled them one at a time, giving myself more time than I thought I’d need to tackle each — because let’s face it, projects always morph into more and I didn’t want to constantly feel like I was behind the 8-ball. I typically aim for 1 project per weekend, and I periodically give myself a weekend off to just read, catch up on the latest Netflix binge, or spend quality time in the pool.

I’m pleased to report that this has been working out quite nicely for me! I’ve remodeled a few rooms in our house, reorganized many others, we’ve donated what we didn’t need, tossed what was junk, and now have spaces that fit our current needs. I have a few more rooms to go, but the sense of accomplishment from finishing the first few is a great motivator!

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

The biggest challenge is managing our daughter’s school and extracurriculars. While my husband tries to help, the bulk of the mental load, planning, preparation, management, organization, and troubleshooting seems to always fall on the woman. So whereas I used to have a block of time from 8am until 3pm when she was at school and I had that entire time — uninterrupted — to work, I’m now lucky to carve out a few uninterrupted hours at a time. But we all make do. It’s temporary. It will be fine.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I’m lucky that I have a relatively independent 12-year-old right now, not an infant or a toddler who demands constant attention. Still, it’s hard. Thankfully, I’m in a profession that really lends itself to remote work and offers a great deal of flexibility. I use the blocks of time as best I can, and I reserve time in the evenings, once my daughter is in bed, to do some additional work. I used to be very protective of my evenings and weekends, because I think we really do need them to recharge, but this temporary situation calls for a pivot. So, pivot we must.

So much of life is about flexibility and adapting to change. This is just the latest example.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

I actually love working from home! Even in “normal” times, I have a virtual office where I receive mail, but do my actual work from my home office.

I am not one of those people who can set up in the living room or at the dining room table, because I find those distracting. There are too many temptations to tidy up, run the dishwasher, answer the door, and the like. I am hyper-focused at work, and I do everything I can to avoid distraction. Thankfully, I have a pool house that is my dedicated home office space. I exit the back door of my house and cross the back yard as if it were my commute. I find that short walk to be the separation I need. I only come in for lunch (and, during this pandemic, to also make lunch for my husband, who is no longer traveling for work, and my daughter, who is also at home) and at the end of the day. I have everything I need there — from technology to an adjustable standing / sit-down desk that was a real splurge at the time, to my favorite office chair (the Herman Miller Aeron chair). I also have a comfortable couch where I sit when reviewing long documents. And I made it a point to put in a full bathroom so I don’t even need to go back in to the house for bio breaks. I designed my office for functionality and efficiency, and I am highly efficient there. Even more efficient is the ability to avoid a commute — especially in Los Angeles!

Having this separate place has made all the difference.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

I’m an extreme extrovert with a travel bug, so staying in place is new to me. In the “before times,” I regularly organized events for my friends with up to several hundred in attendance, including an annual trip with my lawyer mom friends where 200 or so of us basically took over a hotel and did a deep dive into a city, enjoying food tours, city highlights, sunset cruises, private networking happy hours, and more. My husband and I also think it is absolutely critical to expose our daughter to different cultures, different ways of life, and different thinking — and travel is one of the best ways to do this. On average, we flew somewhere new every other month, and took a road trip on the “off” months. When you live in LA, there are plenty of things to do and see locally, and we were determined to hit them all!

Additionally, I love trying new things! In January 1992, I made a New Year’s Resolution to try something new every month — and I’ve been going strong since! I even wrote an article about it for the Huffington Post in 2018. My husband and daughter would frequently join me for these adventures, too. We found they were a wonderful way to bond as a family! And there are clear personal and professional benefits, too. I have found that this is a great way to exercise your creative muscles, too. The experiences — and simply being open to experiences — has served me well. Unfortunately, there’s only so many new things you can do from home.

But again, it is important to pivot, to be flexible, and to be open to change, so we’re making it work!

As a result, I’ve taken many of the gatherings I used to host at my house online, with a twist. While we used to each bake or buy a favorite recipe to contribute to a taste test to find the best [insert food item], I now test recipes at home, offering them to neighbors and friends in exchange for their feedback. We come up with what we think is the ultimate, and we make that as a group. The proverbial “price of admission” is a donation that each person makes directly to a charitable organization or cause that we’ve selected for that event. These taste tests have shifted online, and over 90 friends and I baked the best coffee cake on the planet in July, raising over 4,500 dollars for the Equal Justice Initiative. This past weekend, we hosted more than 80 friends to make the best toffee you’ve ever had (trust me, I tried more than two dozen recipes and ultimately wrote my own) and raised more than 2,500 dollars for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Upcoming events include making Picadillo to support Biden/Harris, baking two of the best chocolate chip cookies on the planet (out of more than four dozen recipes we’ve tested) to benefit a scholarship fund, and we are in the midst of planning an October fundraising taste test for the Southern Poverty Law Center. So, while I miss seeing my friends in person, I love that I can participate in these activities with friends across the country! This is a change that I may keep in place post-pandemic.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1. Change is good!

Think of all the times in your life that you kept doing the same thing not because it was good, but because it was comfortable. A periodic shakeup is exactly what you need, and it’s precisely the reason I make it a point to try something new every month. How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t try it? How can you get the most out of life if you aren’t taking advantage of opportunities that are presented to you?

So, take this time to take stock. If something is working for you, great — keep it. If something isn’t working for you, ditch it. Post-pandemic you will be grateful.

2. Working from home is good for your commute, and good for the environment.

One of the things we first noticed after the stay in place orders was how much more time we all had now that we didn’t need to commute. I loved hearing about how my friends were using that time. We purged, we donated items, we remodeled our spaces, we made our houses work more for us, we weren’t as rushed. It was great!

Another big difference was how little time it took for the air quality to improve. Just a little change can make such a major impact.

3. Changes are coming to residential and commercial real estate.

I love that people are looking at where they live and where they work differently. I love that everyone is examining how they shop, where they get their physical activity, and generally looking more closely at their habits. I love that companies are looking more critically at their commercial real estate needs and learning how to pivot, regardless of their business models. This is a big country, and there’s no reason we all need to be clustered in the same areas. Technology, flexibility, and a new mindset will help bring about changes that should impact affordability and viability — and that’s good news for all of us. We’re living in exciting times!

4. Slowing down is good.

For those who, like me, struggle to say no, this forced slowdown has been a struggle, but also a blessing. When you’re Type A, outgoing, and generally like to be busy, it’s hard to slow down unless you’re forced to. But I’m learning that spending a lazy weekend at home every once in a while maybe wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Spending time at home with my family, playing cards, watching movies, and baking cookies has been a joy. Even if it also means that I’ve gained the Covid-19.

5. We are saving more.

I am an economics nerd. I love reading about the economy on both a micro and macro level. As a country, we’ve been lousy at saving, and I’ve always found this deeply troubling. While the economy has been undisputedly bad for many, many people, we are also saving a lot more as a country, and that is a fundamentally good thing. I hope people continue storing more money in their emergency funds in the event of calamity.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I can’t say enough about the positive effects of meditation and exercise. Meditation helps keep me grounded and centered. It’s a brief time that I can just sit there, and be. And exercise releases endorphins that always make me feel better.

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

A college friend who was wise beyond his years used to always say “If you don’t like it, change it.” To that, I would only add “If you’re not going to change it, stop complaining about it.”

I live by this motto. There are so many things to love. Those things I don’t love, I either changed them already or am actively working to change those things. As to those that don’t make it high enough on my radar for me to actually do anything about them? I don’t dwell on those things because I clearly don’t care enough, so there’s no point in me complaining about them. I can vouch for this being a pretty solid way of living life.

How can our readers follow you online?

On my website:

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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