The importance of interpersonal skills in this career. You can be a great attorney but not know how to communicate appropriately with a client and you need to be able to balance both especially in the area of personal injury. So many personal injury cases require so much more than just an understanding of law, these clients are going through a traumatic and life-changing event, they need a friend, a confident, someone to fight for them, and someone to help them through this process. Never negate the importance of being more than just an attorney.
As a part of my series about “5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an attorney”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sargon Khananisho.
Sargon Khananisho is a partner at MDK Law Group focusing his practice almost exclusively on personal injury as well as wrongful death claims and trial advocacy. Over the years, he has attained significant trial experience based on time as a prosecutor at the state and city level. He is the recipient of professional accolades including the National Trial Lawyers top 40 under 40 award. Sargon has recovered millions on behalf of his former clients and works tirelessly to get his existing clients all that they deserve.
Sargon is a first generation American, born in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois. His parents and their families immigrated from the Middle East after facing religious persecution. He understands the challenges families can face in our legal system firsthand. To give back, Sargon serves as a board member and bylaws chairman for the Assyrian American Cultural Organization of Arizona and Assyrian American National Federation where he helps the next generation of Assyrian Americans integrate and thrive. Sargon grew up bi-lingual speaking both English and Assyrian at home. He has worked to expand his ability to connect with clients by also learning Spanish and advancing his Arabic skills.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
Growing up in an immigrant household, you’re quick to appreciate how impactful the legal system is on your life, whether its immigration documents or a simple real estate transaction. I was always aware of the challenges my family and others in the community faced when trying to maneuver through the system. They didn’t understand their rights or what questions to ask. They put all their trust in someone because they had the title of “lawyer.” At the time, there weren’t many lawyers that spoke Assyrian or even Arabic for that matter, so it was a real disadvantage for my community. My siblings and I spent a significant amount of time translating documents or helping ask questions for friends and family. I quickly realized that being an attorney was like being an advocate and it just seemed so natural for me given upbringing.
While being a prosecutor certainly gave me unparalleled experience, starting my own firm gives me the freedom to help as many people as I can. While MDK focuses on personal injury and wrongful death claims, our goal is to branch out into other areas of law that will continue to serve as a voice for those that need it most.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
Being a prosecutor was tough, especially when you were facing people with limited resources or understanding of the legal system. I always tried to be fair, thoughtful and empathetic in my approach. I had a case early in my career, where I tried my hardest to help a victim of domestic violence prepare for trail. I answered all her questions, coordinated her counseling and we both thought we were ready going into the court date. I was an overly confident, young attorney thinking, this one is not going to be difficult. We get into court, she takes the stand, takes one look at her ex-boyfriend and everything we talked about went out the window. For that, I lost complete control of the line of questioning, her answers were inconsistent and at one point they started arguing in the courtroom like they were in their living room. Emotions are difficult to control for those who have been harmed by others. However, knowing the difficulty, I redirected her focus to me and gained control to help solidify the emotional and mental closure for the years of abuse this victim sustained from this individual. I look back at that and just laugh. Sometimes no matter how prepared you think you are when you enter a courtroom, you never know what is going to happen. That is just a representation of life in general.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
As I mentioned earlier, our goal is to continue to expand into other branches of law that will represent those that need it most. I’m really excited to announce that we have launched a immigration wing within MDK Law Group. As you can imagine, this is very near and dear to my heart. We brought on a fantastic team to help folks understand and, as available, pursue immigration solutions for individuals and families. I am really looking forward to serving so many people who like my own parents, seek the safety and freedom we enjoy as Americans.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
It is always difficult to point to one specific case, as each one is unique in its own right. I strengthen my craft with each case giving me the ability to be a better representative for my next client. However, there is one case that wasn’t about the actual case, but about the family I represented. This was an immigrant family that depended 100% on their father’s income for survival. Their mother didn’t speak English and the children were barely getting through their daily routines in an American school system. This family had no qualms about their situation. In fact, they were very grateful to finally be in the US. One day, their lives changed forever when the father sustained a tragic accident. It was questionable if he would ever wake up again. Frankly, he was lucky to be alive. The time I spent representing this family was extremely emotional and professionally challenging. The family struggled with all aspects and did not understand the medical treatments needed for their father. Helping this family navigate through the many challenges to ultimately receive meaningful compensation is a true privilege. And, it is one that I value because to be a successful advocate for my clients, my role goes beyond just legal representation.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
For me historical figures are exactly that, historical. While there are many that are certainly inspirational in a traditional sense, it’s hard for me to be inspired by someone I didn’t know personally. This is why, when I am asked who inspires me, I always go back to my parents, specifically my father. My mother comes from a family of 6 siblings, came to the US at the age of 15, became a wife and mother by 19. She took us to church every Sunday, drove the importance of education into our daily lives, and continues to be the backbone of our unit. My father is probably the most inspirational person I know. As one of 7 surviving siblings, he escaped Iraq, traveled across the Middle East, working odd jobs for years until he finally reached US soil. He arrived on a Friday with 20 dollars in his pocket and by Monday morning he had a job, then 2 and 3 jobs at times. He built a life here, day by day, piece by piece. Some days were better than others, some years were much more successful than others. My parents are not perfect. Like all people they have their challenges, but they never gave up. They still don’t. While they are both retired and living in Phoenix, they push my siblings and I every day. They don’t allow us to settle. No matter the challenge or the personal struggle, their faith and support get me through it all. So for me, inspiration comes from them. It comes from what they have taught me and what they continue to teach me. It doesn’t hurt that they are truly a people of faith, so I am sure my mom’s prayers have saved me more than once.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
I would tell all young attorneys to not just immerse themselves in the craft but the actual spirit of the role. Being a good attorney requires a combination of continued learning and continued growth. I would also stress the importance of volunteering or even doing a little pro-bono work. Be someone who understands all layers of the job and the people you represent. Finally, ask questions. Never be afraid to admit you need help or guidance.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
1. Criminal Justice system is where I would target my initial reforms. As a former prosecutor, I find it very unsettling that people are treated differently when committing the same offense. There is a lot of inconsistency in our system that drives an unfair process and ultimately an unfair outcome. While it’s true that no two cases are alike, but at the end of the day, the “offense” is the same regardless of who committed it. We are not consistent in the way we apply the law; in the way we prosecute the offense and in the way we sentence the offender. Significant reforms are needed in the handling of criminal offenses and it starts at the state and local level, not the federal government.
2. We need to reform our incarceration/rehabilitation system. People serving for offenses related to drug addiction are not the same as someone who is a hardened criminal. Not all crimes are created equal and not everyone who has committed a crime is a life-long criminal. Our failure to distinguish these areas leads to significant problems. And from my perspective, much of this could be equitably resolved with a better understanding of the circumstances behind the charges at issue.
3. The third area Sargon would make would be to provide greater protections against abuse by insurance companies. It is all too common for insurance companies to look out for their own interests, not those of their insureds or the victims in accidents. This is wrong. And, with some modest changes at the legislative level, much of this could be corrected.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Bringing goodness to the world is a lifelong journey. I’m trying and will continue to do so. I will keep assisting those without an understanding of their rights and for those who feel like they don’t have a voice. I will continue to dedicate my career and my craft to those I’ve helped to be a beacon of assistance for those without an understanding of their rights and for those without a voice and expertise. I have dedicated my life to fighting for those people without capitalizing on their lack of knowledge for their own rights.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
My clients drive me, my family drives me and most of all my personal mission play an integral role in helping people achieve a positive outcome that sometimes can change their lives…that drives me.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. The amount of dedication required. There is a great deal of dedication required in order to go through the various levels of schooling while trying to maintain the rest of your life.
2. The importance of interpersonal skills in this career. You can be a great attorney but not know how to communicate appropriately with a client and you need to be able to balance both especially in the area of personal injury. So many personal injury cases require so much more than just an understanding of law, these clients are going through a traumatic and life-changing event, they need a friend, a confident, someone to fight for them, and someone to help them through this process. Never negate the importance of being more than just an attorney.
3. All prospective lawyers should take the Bar review before they enter law school. This will give them a fast track of learning how to navigate the legal system efficiently.
4. You can never stop practicing. It is called the practice of law for a reason. Being able to learn and adapt is critical. So being both a student and teacher is a path all attorneys should strive to take because you have to stay up to date and continue to practice to remain successful in this career.
5. Make sure you make time for self-care. Understanding that it is important to still make time for self-care. The life of an attorney is a grueling one, every day consists of managing so many different things while constantly battling on behalf of other people, and in my case, insurance companies. But never forget that your own personal self-care helps make you a better person and advocate. So do not neglect your own health.
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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
I’d want to sit down with Mark Cuban. I have great admiration for his tenacity and business mind. I appreciate his approach to life and business and the way that he is unsympathetic to excuses and proves his point through action. Cuban reminds people that they are a product of the work they put in and leads a life that is truly an example. But greater than that, Cuban is a philanthropist who gives back and changes people’s lives. This is the type of person I admire and work to surround myself with as I continue to grow as an individual and professional.