Episode 19 - Building a New Law Firm in Times of Uncertainty – Part 1

 

Read the transcript below:

Jim Batson:

Hello, and thank you for tuning into the Beyond Hourly podcast, hosted by Omni Bridgeway, one of the world's most experienced dispute funders and enforcement specialists. Our podcast focuses on commercial disputes around the globe and innovative ways to maximize value for clients and law firms. Episodes of this podcast can be found on our website omnibridgeway.com, iTunes, Spotify and other podcast networks. We welcome you to subscribe to the podcast and leave us reviews. My name is Jim Batson, and I'm your host for today's podcast. I'm a Senior Investment Manager and Head of Omni Bridgeway’s New York office. Prior to joining Omni Bridgeway, I was a commercial litigator and partner at a boutique law firm. My role at Omni Bridgeway involves assessing investment opportunities and serving as a strategic resource for the parties we fund, throughout the funding relationship. I'm delighted to host a two-part podcast series featuring Ariana Tadler, founding partner of Tadler Law.

                Among other things, Ariana is an incredibly accomplished litigator in the complex litigation and class action arena, as well as a world-renowned authority in the field of e-Discovery. She is also a founding principal of Meta-e Discovery, a data hosting management and consulting company. Today's episode will explore Ariana's experience launching a law firm, and advice she has for others tempted to hang their own shingle. Our second episode in the series will focus on Ariana's advocating for consumers and investors against corporate fraud, her insights about running a woman-owned, woman-led law firm, and how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting access to justice. Ariana, welcome to the Beyond Hourly podcast. We're delighted to have you appear on two episodes.

Ariana Tadler:

Thanks for having me. This is really a great opportunity to connect with you.

Jim Batson:

That's a great segue here to how we know each other. Our paths have crossed in fun and interesting ways. I was thinking before the podcast today, we first met when we were together at Fordham Law School. I was a legal writing TA and you were the TA supervisor. So, I think I technically reported to you at that time.

Ariana Tadler:

That may have been true. That sounds pretty good. I think it was probably a little less formal than that, but it was a great program that Fordham had in position so that the students, as they were moving through the system had the opportunity to both teach and learn simultaneously.

Jim Batson:

I will say my Bluebook skills were enhanced incredibly by being required to help correct the submissions that the other students had put in for the class that I was the TA for. It made me a stickler for Bluebook stuff, which was never the kind of person I was. Once you've been in that role, it's hard to stop.

Ariana Tadler:

Agreed.

Jim Batson:

Then after that, I think we were a floor apart from one another when we both worked at separate law firms here in the city, right?

Ariana Tadler:

That's right. I think we had one particular day where the elevator doors opened and we said "Hello, hi!", and that led to various random opportunities where that would happen. I haven't worked on the East Side in such a long time, so that's a good memory, I like that.

Jim Batson:

Yeah, here here. Then, I think we sort of reconnected more regularly when we both had some pretty well-known e-Discovery cases pending before Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Southern District of New York back in the 2006, 2007, 2008 timeframe. I know I had a case that was kind of a perfect storm for people in the e-Discovery world called Zubulake against UBS. I think Judge Scheindlin was anxious to have an opportunity to convey to the legal world her very well-informed views on e-Discovery. I just happened to serve up a case where there were a lot of e-Discovery disputes, back when those were pretty unknown. You had a case before Judge Scheindlin about the same time too, that also was a big factor in the e-Discovery world, is that right?

Ariana Tadler:

I did. I actually was appointed as plaintiff's coordinating council in the IPO Securities Litigation, which started in the very early 2000, 2001 period, and was related to 309 different class actions that ended up being coordinated together. It was mostly against companies that were in the tech space, around the time of what was referred to as the tech bubble. There were also 55 investment banks that were defendants. We had e-Discovery issues that really were very unique and different to what people were accustomed to, in that federal securities fraud arena. I considered myself very privileged to have had those years before Judge Scheindlin, because she was so knowledgeable about this area, and very intent on letting the world know about this area. Then, your case came along while we were still in the throes of discovery and you were making really phenomenal law, which was great, because it opened up this field and led more, and more practitioners to understand the significance of electronic and digital information in the context of a court case.

Jim Batson:

It was quite a time. They were leading up to amending the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. I think, to do away with one of the terms, it was like phonographic recordings or something along those lines. Think about an amendment from the 1930s to the 2000s, where you now have email and all the other electronic discovery. It was really ground-breaking at the time. Now, I think there's been at least one set of amendments, if not more since then, which are more refined. I remember it was a big shift in the discovery world in the U.S. at the time.

Ariana Tadler:

Right. That was actually the first time, the 2006 amendments, obviously the process starts far earlier before the amendments become effective. That was the first time that I ever really learned anything or understood how the amendment process works, how the Federal Civil Rules Advisory Committee works. I commented on the proposed amendments at the time, and then became a very active, formal observer, going to the meetings for the advisory committee and the standing committee, all the way through the most recent discovery package, which became effective in 2015. Since that time, I have personally been appointed by Chief Justice Roberts to sit on the Federal Civil Rules Advisory Committee. I'm currently fulfilling my term doing that.

Jim Batson:

Wow, that's impressive. I remember our paths crossing more than from time to time, pretty regularly for about a year or so thereafter, as we spoke before a lot of the same entities on e-Discovery issues. I only did that for a short period of time. I think you've become incredibly involved and it has actually led to what's becoming an important part of your career, is that right?

Ariana Tadler:

Yes, absolutely. I would say that when you and I were crossing paths, it was almost like we were on the circuit, running around and speaking at various conferences. Since that time, you've obviously taken a very important different path in your career, which is so exciting. For me, I decided that was an area that I wanted to really embrace, and make it be a very vital part of what I do every day. So, I am a full-service litigator, but I also have a specialization, when necessary, in the field of discovery. We say, e-Discovery, although most discovery today is e-Discovery you're dealing with, whether it's email, or word documents, or text messages, or social media, or whatever application you might be wearing or using in your home from Alexa to your iWatch, to your Fitbit. I've just enjoyed that part of my practice because I love litigating, and I love all the procedural aspects of litigation, including gearing towards trial. I also love identifying the information that is going to enable you to prosecute your claim or defend your claim.

Jim Batson:

Ariana, you just pretty recently launched your own firm, to which I just take my hat off. That's an incredible undertaking. I was so happy to see it. I think it's fantastic. Definitely would like to spend some time today talking to our listeners about, what that's about. Maybe we could start at the beginning, what made you decide to start your own firm? Why did you do that?

Ariana Tadler:

I was at a really important time in my own personal life, in that I felt that I had built my own brand and wanted to be able to really enforce that brand, and build upon it in a way that was not structured so much by a much larger firm structure. I really considered myself privileged to be able to work with so many of the same people for well over 20 years of my career by the time I launched my own firm, Tadler Law, in June of 2019. It was just shortly after my eldest son graduated from college, and my youngest son had just completed his first year in college. Both of my children, when my husband and I told them what we were going to be doing, that I was going to be making this transition, they both said, I think almost in synchrony, "Mom, is there ever a time when you'll rest, is there ever a time you would just sit back? You've got one of us out and independent and the other is now in college, it's an empty nest for you and dad."

                I said, "You know what, it's almost like the perfect time to do this, because it means that I need to fill in some of that gap too." I felt very strongly during the course of my career, which has been very intense and involves a lot of travel prior to COVID.  I know we'll talk about that a little bit later, but there was a lot of time that I spent focused on my children. I adore my children. They're great young men. I also want to make sure that I am continuing to be true to myself, continuing to represent people who need strong lawyers with strong vision, who are armed up for what is involved in the litigations that we do, whether they be class actions or complex litigation. We also now do contract negotiation. We've had people come to us because they're departing from one organization and going to another, they need some facilitation there. So, it's been an exciting time to be more free thinking and more open about the kind of skill sets that over all these years, I was able to develop.

Jim Batson:

I see your point. There are certain inflection points in our lives where we realize “I can make a change.” Sometimes it's forced on us by external circumstances, whatever might be going on in your current role, but other times you just find that opportunity. Certainly for me, switching from being a litigator for 20 years to getting into commercial litigation finance was a huge leap. It was seen as somewhat similar. I mean, it was partly a function of what was going on in the world of litigation, generally, and how things were changing right around 2008, or the after-effects of 2008. It was also just a point where it's like, we're doing this for 20 years, is this something I want to keep doing as a litigator? Or do I want to try something new?

                In that way I can relate. Not in other ways, I didn't start my own business, and that's really incredible. I can't imagine it's been exactly what you expected. I'm not even sure what your expectations were, but I'll still ask. How has it been different than you expected? Tell us about unexpected developments, or what have you. It's an incredible process that I'm sure a lot of lawyers have thought about doing, but far fewer have actually done. Many people are probably thinking about it right now.

Ariana Tadler:

I think, there are so many elements that were unexpected. One of the things that anybody who's going to launch a new business should know, especially if they're leaving an organization that they've been affiliated with for a significant period of time, is that at some point, you're just going to have to take the leap. You can think that you're going to plan, and plan, and plan, and have it all beautifully scoped, so that you walk out the door and walk into your new door and everything's going to be set up perfectly. It doesn't quite work that way. Again, I really did have the privilege of working with so many amazing people at my prior firm for well over two decades. I had become very accustomed to having this extensive, very qualified and competent staff. Whether it be an entire paralegal department, word processing department, secretaries and accounting department, an investigation department. Then, having tiers of lawyers doing a variety of different types of cases, also fulfilling certain procedural aspects of a particular litigation.

                When I launched my firm, it was really just with a handful of people. We're a small firm. We're very nimble, we're very flexible. That's good that we're very nimble and we're very flexible, because in addition to now litigating our cases, all of that back office, accounting, how you manage finances, how you are negotiating your contracts with the various service providers that you need. Separate apart from your service providers for litigation, service providers that allow any kind of organization, company, law firm to run, from what provider are you going to use for your cell phone service? Are you going to use Office 365? To what kind of file system, virtual file system, or case management system are you going to use? What kind of billing system are you going to use to manage all of the hours that the attorneys and the paralegals, and case managers are billing?

                That was a lot of research. We did choose to go outside of just our brains. My main partner, A.J. de Bartolomeo, is very well equipped in this arena. Sheba Makonnen, whom I know you've met and know, she had been my executive assistant for nearly 14 years. We just recently promoted her to director of operations of administrative services. She's phenomenal at fostering relationships and identifying places where savings can be, and also ensuring that you get the services that you want and need, and not pay for things that you don't. Having the ability to look outside and identify places where we needed help was very important. We did hire a consultant to come in and help facilitate some of that work.

                Then as I said, Sheba and A.J. did a lot of work, as did I. We spent many nights and weekends working on that back-office part, while simultaneously moving our cases, because our clients and cases that had been in our respective inventories, followed us. So, there was no time to skip a beat. We had to get going right away, as if yesterday was no different than today. Or I should say, today is no different than yesterday, in that, wherever we left off yesterday, we had to keep going. That really ended up, I think, being the biggest challenge, was prioritizing our time, making sure we were getting all of our case responsibilities handled, making sure we were connected with our clients, achieving the results for them that they had come to expect, and that we expected of ourselves, and making sure that we were also building the firm's infrastructure.

                I have to say, one of the things I'm proudest of is that when we did launch the firm, we made a decision to invest in the best technology. Which little did we know that less than a year in, we would be asking our employees to work remotely or recommending that they do. When we did that in March, on March 14th, we did so seamlessly. There really was no transition period, because we already had all the technology in place to do it. That was something, by the grace of God, I'm very, very thankful that, that was what we had made a choice about, in terms of investing in ourselves.

Jim Batson:

Yeah. I think prior to COVID, I've never appreciated how important a good internet connection was. I thought it mattered a lot to me before. Now it's like, you can't live without the best possible Wi-Fi, but I know you're talking about a lot more than that, and it's impressive. I forget, you must have felt like you were making a hundred decisions a day sometimes. I mean, so many small things that you wouldn't normally have to decide, you had to decide.

Ariana Tadler:

Yes. There were so many things that I think I did take for granted, and I don't mean to be negative in that context. Rather, I had come to expect that there were just people who handled all of these things, and I was so happy to rely upon them to do that at my old firm, then suddenly, to have to make these decisions and to make choices. Making decisions is one thing, I think there is a distinction between making a decision and making a choice. Sometimes when you have a decision that's binary, yes, no, that's not that difficult, assuming you've done your homework. When it's yes, no, we want this kind of technology, or yes, no, we want to go down this path. That's only the beginning, because then once you go down the path or choose that type of technology, well, what are your options?

                Okay, well, we're talking about a type of technology or a business service. One offers A through C, another one offers B, C and E, another one offers B and F. You're trying to figure out what's the right choice. It comes back to what I said earlier in response to one of your questions, Jim, at some point, sometimes you just have to make a leap and say, "We're going to try it this way and see if that works." I will say that, I am very proud of the decisions we made about technology. There are some choices that we made in the beginning in launching the firm, that we have since transitioned. We're now well past our one-year anniversary.

                Contracts were coming due for renewal. We had the opportunity during COVID to spend some time that we didn't really have before, to drill down what was working, what wasn't, and realize that we were in a position that was well leveraged. In terms of a service provider wanting us to stay with them, other providers wanting our business, and being able to spend some time thinking, "Well, that product didn't really work so well for us, or there were some bells and whistles that were missing." "What else were we looking for?" We've used this time very productively to determine, what are the things that we need and are essential to our day-to-day? What are things that are our wants? Which wants are really worth it, and which wants should still sit there on the desk? We're going to think about them some more and see if they really make sense for us in terms of an investment of money.

Jim Batson:

Sounds like it really highlights how important it is to focus on the decision-making process, and then having confidence in the decision-making process, because you could second guess yourself forever, I imagine.

Ariana Tadler:

Yes. The other thing too, one of the core values for us at Tadler Law is inclusion. What I mean by that is, we really want to hear the voices of all participants. I might look at a particular service or product that we're using and think it's great, and I'm only using three aspects of functionality. Meanwhile, three other people are using that and they're using 10 aspects of functionality, and they're sitting there thinking, "This is terrible, it doesn't do anything that I want it to do, other than the three things that Ariana's happy with." I think that in some organizations, people would sit quietly and not get into the conversation, because the person whose name is on the door seems satisfied. For us, we have pushed very, very hard to really encourage everybody to have a voice and speak up about anything and everything that's working or not working.

                I think that is a huge difference in being in a smaller organization than a larger organization. We actually have worked with a facilitator. I worked with an executive coach for more than 10 years personally. I arranged for him to come in and actually facilitate a half day meeting. We did a socially distanced outdoor meeting, where he facilitated discussion around, how do we communicate? Are we communicating well, or are we missing certain opportunities that would enable us to be that much more efficient and effective? That process is still ongoing. We did that in September. Now we're in the second phase of some additional exercises that we're working on; with the hope of completing them before year end so we can think about, how we're going to facilitate part of our new vision for 2021.

Jim Batson:

I'm dying to get to talking more about your actual practice now, but before we do, do you have any words of wisdom for somebody who might be considering starting his or her own firm?

Ariana Tadler:

Absolutely. You have to tap into your networks that already exist, and you have to identify other networks. I had some colleagues that are actually competitors of mine in the spaces that I work, primarily in one particular area. When I was thinking about whether to maybe go to another firm or launch my own firm, I had one particular colleague initially, who said, "You need to take this leap, and we are all going to be here for you." I was not prepared for that answer. I thought, "My gosh, we compete for business every day." These people have been phenomenal resources. You start going down a path and you're thinking, "Oh, this might work for my business," and you're not sure. You just pick up the phone and ask them, "Hey, did you try this product, or did you think about using this marketing tool?"

                They'll tell you straight up, "Yes, no, don't do this, call this person." A real blessing was somebody who introduced me to this great organization called, Women Owned Law. It's an organization made up obviously of women who either own their own law firms, or they are owners of service providers in the legal industry, in some fashion. The really great part of this organization is that there is a New York Chapter. It's also a national organization. You have access to all of these amazingly talented visionary women, very, very excited and enthusiastic about what they're doing, and really keyed in to sharing their network and working together. What I love is when I go to a meeting, whether in-person before COVID or now even virtually, I am surrounded by women who are not my competitors. They are women who do all sorts of different things.

                As a result, that network becomes this really hearty place where somebody is looking for this type of attorney, or this type of service provider, and we're all recommending each other. They, thankfully, have also created a good Listserv, so that we're able to communicate, whether we're having a meeting or not, when we're looking to either help somebody or we need some help. It became a great resource for me too, even on some of the decisions that we were making in growing the firm, just hiring certain people. People who were just so absolutely impressive that we thought, "These are great people that we want to be working with."

Jim Batson:

I love your emphasis on networking there. Because, it's a term that people throw around, but it's when you make a career change or if something significant happens, that's when you really... At least I’ve found, it's when I really come to appreciate the relationships with everybody.

              You pointed out how you got a lot of assistance from competitors in your space. It's true. It's made me realize that business and life, they're so intertwined. It's all about relationships, whatever side of the V, or whatever you're doing, if you're fostering relationships and helping each other out, that sounds like you really hit the nail on the head and you're fortunate to have found such a great organization too, to be able to broaden your network. Certainly, it's one thing to reach into your own, but broadening it. That really rings true.

                As I mentioned at the outset, this is the first episode in a two-part series featuring Ariana. We welcome you to tune in for part two and hear more about Ariana's practice. The trends she's seeing as courts manage their dockets in the era of COVID-19, and other topics. Episodes of the Beyond Hourly podcast can be found on our website, omnibridgeway.com, iTunes, Spotify and other podcast networks. I invite you to subscribe and leave us reviews. You can also access a transcript of this podcast on our website blog page. Please feel free to follow up with me, Jim Batson at [email protected] For any feedback, ideas, or insights you have on topics we should cover on the podcast.

Thank you for listening.