Guest speaker: Steve Mindel, Family Lawyer (California)
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Hi my name is Martha Chan I am the vice president Divorce Marketing Group and Editorial Director of Family Lawyer Magazine. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with a highly successful family lawyer who has managed to have a great career, as well as the various aspects of his life outside of the office.
My guest today is Steve Mindel. Steve Mindel is the managing partner of a law firm called Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt & Klein in Los Angeles California. Steve had his own law practice until he merged with other firms to give birth to Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt & Klein in 1996. Today the firm has 15 lawyers, with five different practice areas. The firm has been voted as the best family law firm in Southern California by best of LA TV viewers in both 2010 and 2011.
Steve graduated from UCLA in 1981 and from USC Law Center in 1985. He has been a certified family law specialist since 1998 and has been named a super lawyer every year since 2004. Steve is a frequent lecturer and is often interviewed on TV for his comments on celebrity divorce. He volunteers at multiple organizations, currently he is on the board of the Pacific Coast Soccer Committee and was the past president of his Synagogue and now he serves on the dinner committee. He ski’s frequently and has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Recently I read on his Facebook page he even has a black eye. So without delay let me start my interview with Steve. Hello Steve, welcome and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me.
Wow, all I can say Martha is what an introduction, I loved it, thank you.
So Steve, I want to ask you something that is away from your work, but I also know that its not totally away from your work and that is the personal side of your life. You use the word “integrate” between personal and business a lot. And it seems like if you’re able to integrate your business life with your personal life, then you can live a balanced life, because I heard you saying that your kind of work is not 9 till 5, right? So it’s not like you can say—okay I’ll focus on work 9 to 5 and when I go home I’m going to be with my family and I take time out as volunteer. Can you tell me more about that?
Yeah, well I think one of the key things that every attorney has to face is do you want to be the attorney that kind of goes into work and works 9 to 5 or 9 to 7, which is more traditional for attorneys or maybe even 8:30 to 7. Then during that period of time you’re focussd on your clients and you’re working on your work that you have to do and then its 7 o’clock, the bell rings and you go home and then you’re focused on your personal life and then at 10/11/12 o’clock whatever time it is you go to bed at night, you go to bed and then you wake up the next morning and do it again. That can be effective for certain people, if you don’t have children and you work in kind of an environment that’s pretty straightforward, maybe you don’t have a lot of personal things, maybe your spouse doesn’t work, and is able to manage all of the things in your personal life without contact with you.
But I think nowadays, with the advent of text messaging and email, the kind of model that we had of the typical dad lawyer of the 1960’s, where dad went to work and dad was at work from you know 9 until in those days probably 5:30 or 6 and then came home and then focused on the family, I think those days are gone. I think nowadays the happier, more satisfied people, are people that are able to integrate their personal life and their business life. And what do I mean by that? Well for instance in my own personal life, I have children and when my children were younger and they would have a soccer game, I would take off at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I would go see the soccer game from 3 till you know 6 o’clock at night and then probably go out and grab dinner with the team until 7.
And then I would maybe drive back to the office or maybe nowadays with everything being so networked, I would maybe work at my home office from 7 o’clock at night until midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning, whatever it took to get the work done that I didn’t accomplish from 2 to 6 when other people would be working.
And for me that gives me a much more fulfilling kind of life, I think your clients are also happier. Because our family law clients are really busy, they have a lot of problems going on, they’re getting divorced, their job has got a lot of demands on them. They may not have time to call you between 9 o’clock in the morning and 6 o’clock at night. So if you’re available by email or by text in the after hours, I think the clients appreciate that. They respect the fact that for you as the family law lawyer, your personal family life comes first and because to them they want to know that you’re family centered, because even though their family is being divided up, its still their family and they want you focused on their family. And they want to make sure that you’re focused on getting a result for their family that works the best for their family.
So my whole world has been about integrating my two lives—whether or not its serving on the school parent association or flipping hamburgers for homecoming or going and watching a soccer game with my kids, I think that gives you a well rounded personality and makes you part of the team and when your clients come in and meet with you, they realize that you’re part of the team.
I think if you work in a big corporate law firm and your client is Exxon, but really your client is the partner that brought in Exxon, there is really no Mr. Exxon. And so maybe in that environment you could get by doing the work 9 to 7 and don’t try to integrate, because your office might be in Wyoming and your client might be in New York and so you don’t really have a way to interface with those people. And the referral source that referred you in Wyoming, might be in Chicago and so you really can’t even interface with the referral source.
But with family law, if your cases are moving efficiently, in 8 months to 16/18 months even if the court is slow, you’ve got a whole new batch of clients and you’ve got a whole new batch of referral sources. So, you have to have some kind of integration with your personal life and your family life, because all of these people are important to you. The person who referred the client to you, is important to you. You want to make sure you thank them appropriately and you want to make sure you have contact with them, because they might be able to send you another client. The clients themselves are very important to you.
I personally don’t socialize with my clients, because I think it’s difficult, they’re people who are in an emotionally strained position, but the referral sources I do quite frequently. And I think it’s just important that you have that kind of balance between what you’re doing personally and what you’re doing professionally.
From the sound of it, you really have one life and all the different things happen and you just make sure that you attend to all of them, rather than departmentalizing your life. I know you, you certainly would be in touch with a lot of the people that you talked about and also work the hours that work for you. I know at the introduction I talked about how you are a volunteer. Tell me some of the volunteer work that you are doing that is closest to your heart.
Well I think probably the most important volunteer work that I’ve ever done is with the Los Angeles Free Clinic. And you know working with people that have little or no assets, very desperate situations to try to resolve their family law situations.
The next important volunteer activity that I’ve done has been with the Pacific Coast Soccer League, because its very interesting, you know in California soccer is really large and this is a club that’s always financially challenged and its interesting because you’re working with so many young people. I mean soccer clubs are made really of kids. Each team has 18 or 20 kids on a team and you might have 20 teams in your club, so you’re talking about 400 or 500 children that are impacted on a daily basis by the decisions that the board makes. It’s always wonderful if you can go out to a big tournament, see the fun all the people are having and you see the personal growth that these kids are having.
And then of course the work at our Synagogue are always valuable and a lot of fun, because those are people that you know for years and years and years and its always fun and its great to put your time in.
But I think the most important part about the volunteer work that we do is, when you volunteer you don’t volunteer because you think you’re going to get clients. A lot of lawyers want to get on boards of their local charity because they want to meet Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Johnson’s a bigwig in town and she’s got lots of money to throw around and everybody wants to meet Mrs. Johnson and they know that’s her big charity, so they want to get involved in it.
That never happens, when you get on a board, you rarely are going to do any business with any of the board members. But that’s not why you’re there, you’re there because you have a passion for whatever’s happening in that non-profit organization. But what’s really interesting and this I’ve come to learn over the last 25 years of practice, is that the by-product of doing good work on a board, is that you’re given a lot of responsibility and you’re given a lot of opportunities to do things. When you fulfill your tasks, clients notice this. They notice that you were on the board of the Los Angeles Free Clinic, you developed a protocols for their divorce department and you helped streamline the way that services were being rendered, and you were the volunteer of the year at the LA Free Clinic. Whether or not your clients are involved in the LA Free Clinic or not, maybe its not the right political viewpoint for them or whatever, they don’t really care, they just care that you took on a task and you were able to complete it.
A lot of my friends that are lawyers are involved in politics and they’re always afraid to put on their website that they were at the Republican party or they were at the Democratic party. I encourage them to do this and they say—yeah but what if my client is a devout Democrat and I’m a Republican? Won’t they not hire me? My answer is—I don’t think so, because people want people that care and when you’re passionate about something, people see it in your volunteer work and that’s a good thing.
My best analogy to that is when my son was born, we’re Jewish and we live in a big Jewish community with lots of Jewish doctors and our son’s paediatrician is a devout Christian and very public about his Christianity. We hired him immediately. And so people would come up to me and they’d say—well what do you think about Dr. H, you know I mean he’s so out there in the public about his relegation. And I’d say I hired him because he’s passionate and I want my son to be treated by a person who’s passionate. He’s got one of the biggest practices in West Los Angeles and it is because he’s passionate about what he does. The fact that I’m Jewish and he’s Christian doesn’t impact me as much as the fact that he’s so passionate about what he does and I want that passion for my family.
Well that message is loud and clear. I’m surely hoping that family lawyers who are listening in get that message, because so often we choose people or services using criteria that are perhaps not the best. Certainly I agree with you when someone has passion you know that they are going to attend to your need the best way they know how. It sounds like you attend to you faith, your industry, your physical wellness, what else? I think you also wrote a cookbook, right? Tell me about that.
Well I think everybody’s gotta have a hobby that they love and my hobby that I love is cooking. I like to cook for big parties and I’ve done some really fun parties in my time, I cooked for both of my kids’ Bar Mitzvahs and we had 200 people at our house for dinner and I actually made the dinner for both of them. Every time we have a party with more than 50 or 60 people, I always take pictures, I make the menus and I keep all the recipes and then over the years, my sons for my 50th birthday said: "you know dad we gotta make a cookbook." Nowadays you can go online on iBooks or blurb.com or any of these companies that allow you to make books online. So I self published a cookbook. I did all the recipes, my boys did all the photography of all the food and my wife did all the editing. So it was a lot of fun, big family project and that was my 50th birthday present to myself. Now I’m working on a second cookbook and a book on hiking called Above 14,000 Feet: The Rare Air.
Wow and when is that going to be coming out?
Well I’ve got all the pictures edited and now we’re working on the text, so I would think by Christmas next year I’ll have it done.
Well I sure look forward to seeing it, it just—As I said in the beginning when I introduced you I was just barely reading what it is that you do and I was getting exhausted, but it sounds like not only are you doing those things, you are having a great deal of fun, so good for you. Just one final question. How do you do it? I mean you have 24 hours a day, so do I, right? So how do you do it?
Well the key is, is that you’ve gotta have really good planning and you’ve gotta associate yourself with really good people that share the same goals that you share. They don’t have to have the same political or ethnic situation that you have, they just have to have the same goals as you do and they have to be trustworthy, caring individuals. And if you surround yourself with those people, you know the world’s your oyster, you’re just going to continue to expand and there isn’t a lot of magic to it, besides the fact that you’ve gotta be caring about what you do and you’ve gotta have a plan. There’s just no other way. If you don’t have a plan, all the roads are going to take you there.
So well put, I am so honored to be part of your circle of people you have chosen to include, so thank you very much. Thank you for the interview. For those of you who are interested in getting in touch with Steve Mindel, you could certainly visit his firm’s website, again his firm’s name is Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt and Klein. Their website url is www.fmbklaw.com. Thank you for listening. Steve, thank you for being a part of this and have a good day.
Thank you Martha. Bye-bye.
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1. Another interview with Steve Mindel: Top 3 Factors that Make a Successful Law Firm.
2. An Interview with Lizanne J. Ceconi: On Work/Life Balance, Delegation and Technology.
3, An Interview with Sharon Blanchet: Zen and the Key Attitudes for a Work Life Balance.